National Landscape Conservation System

Blackfoot River, Montana
Dave Amman
Our conservation lands — the most innovative land system created in the past 40 years — are the crown jewels of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

These lands encompass unique landscapes, including red-rock deserts in Utah, ocean coastlines in California, deep river canyons in Colorado and a broad tundra in Alaska. Archeological, scientific and cultural sites, including rock art and cliff dwellings, are important aspects of the conservation lands system.

The 27 million-acre conservation lands system includes more than 800 individual units including:

  • 17 national monuments
  • 21 national conservation areas and similar designations
  • 2,415 miles of wild and scenic rivers
  • More than 200 wilderness areas
  • More than 6,000 miles of national scenic and historic trails
  • 591 wilderness study areas

Many of these areas are open to the public and easily accessible. Some are far from the beaten path, which further protects their wilderness qualities.

How our conservation lands came to be

Established by the federal government in 2000, the National Landscape Conservation System is overseen by the BLM. The National Landscape Conservation System lands represent a small sliver of the 245 million acres of public lands managed by the BLM.

Congress passed a law in 2009 to make the system a permanent part of our public lands protection system. In designating these areas for conservation, the law directed the BLM to ensure these places are protected for future generations, similar to our national parks and wildlife refuges.

Conservation lands mission

The National Landscape Conservation System mission charges the BLM to "conserve, protect and restore these nationally significant landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations."

Threats and challenges

The BLM has a mixed record of planning and managing these lands. The BLM frequently treats its conservation responsibility as just one of many multiple use responsibilities rather than prioritizing protection of natural and cultural resources as intended when the National Landscape Conservation System was created.

Management and guidance

Inconsistent management due to lack of guidance plagued the first decade of the national conservation lands. But new guidance under Secretarial Order 3308 directs the BLM to prioritize conservation or natural and cultural resource management of the lands above all other uses. The guidance emphasizes collaborative and science-based management of these spectacular places. A 15-year strategy for the conservation lands directs these efforts. 

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