The Virginia Natural Area Preserve System is a system of protected areas in the state of Virginia. It was established in the late 1980s to protect sites that were designated as among the most significant natural areas in the state. To become part of the system, a site must first be designated a Natural Area Preserve by the director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The dedication itself is similar to a conservation easement, as it places certain legal strictures on future development on a given portion of land. As of 2013[update] there are sixty-one dedicated preserves in Virginia, containing examples of some of the rarest natural communities to be found in the state; in addition, many serve as a home for locally, nationally, and globally rare species. Most properties are owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, but some are owned by local government, while others are held by universities and private citizens. Some are overseen by The Nature Conservancy.