Research Natural Areas

Photo of a mountain.



Research natural areas (RNAs) are permanently established to maintain areas of natural ecosystems and areas of special ecological significance. 

RNAs serve three important functions:

  • Reference areas – RNAs serve as benchmarks for monitoring and evaluating the impacts of land management practices on lands with similar ecosystems.
  • Research – RNAs provide sites for research into how ecosystems function, particularly in areas where ecological and evolutionary processes are functioning in a relatively natural state.
  • Biological diversity – RNAs provide protection for biological diversity.  A representative RNA system provides some degree of assurance that a wide array of plant and animal species will be afforded a high degree of protection in the future.  RNAs can also be selected to help protect specific populations of threatened, endangered, and/or sensitive species.

Potential RNA are evaluated using the following criterion: Criterion such as quality of the biodiversity elements, condition of the site, likelihood of long –term survivability, potential of protection from human factors,  a minimum of 300 + acres in size and having identifiable boundary

To ensure RNAs retain their natural condition, in as near a pristine state as possible, the following management limitations are generally applied to RNAs.

  • Logging, new roads, trails, and developed recreation are prohibited.
  • Fencing is permitted for protection of the area.
  • Grazing is permitted only to maintain the natural vegetation.
  • Natural fires are allowed to burn.
  • No action is taken against endemic insects, diseases or wild animals.
  • Recreation is prohibited if use threatens or interferes with purpose of RNA.
  • Vegetation is managed only where the type would be lost without management

RNA's on the GMUG National Forest:

The Dry Fork of Escalante on the Uncompahgre Plateau was established in 1981. It is 61 acres along the Dry Fork of Escalante Creek.   The blue spruce (Picea pungens) specie exists in narrow stringers along the stream bottom and northwest slopes.

The Gothic RNA, located on the Gunnison National Forest was originally established in 1931 and expanded in 1959.  Currently 1080 acres comprise the Gothic RNA at an elevation of 11,000 feet.  Ecosystems represented are high elevation alpine meadows, the ecological types represented include: 

  • 531 acres of subalpine fir-Engelmann spruce and other associated plant communities/Rocky Mountain whortleberry (Abies bifolis-Picea engelmannii/Vaccinium myrtillus ssp. oreophilum) on Cryochrept and Cryoboralf cold soils. Small stands of subalpine fir-Engelmann spruce/elk sedge (Abies bifolis-Picea engelmannii/Carex geyeri) may also be present. Other plant species that may occur in these 2 plant communities are lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), aspen (Populus tremuloides), Woods rose (Rosa woodsii), Oregon-grape (Mahonia repens), Colorado currant (Ribes coloradense), mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos rotundifolius), heartleaf arnica (Arnica cordifolia), and various forbs and graminoids.
  • 238 acres of Thurber fescue/meadowrue-vetch-elk sedge (Festuca thurberi/Thalictrum fendleri-Vicia americana-Carex geyeri) on deep to very deep Argic Cryoboroll soils.
  • 281 acres of various alpine plant communities