After months of planning and research, we at the Wilderness Society have recently taken a look at some key public lands in America and how they are being cared for. From Carrizo Plain National Monument in California to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada, the State of the National Landscape Conservation System: A Second Assessment reviews the management of some of the breathtaking landscapes that make up the Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System (National Conservation Lands). Our assessment has culminated with this report, a unique document that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of a little-known but remarkable system of American wild lands.
The BLM manages 27 million acres of land “to conserve, protect, and restore nationally significant landscapes,” an area roughly the size of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Connecticut…combined. Most of these national treasures are located in the West and encompass wild landscapes from the Oregon Cascades to Sonoran desert grasslands. Want to see what these places look like? You can view a photo slide show we put together to illustrate these great places we are working to protect. There are also some great maps you can check out to learn more about where these special places are located.
The BLM is tasked with protecting these places. The agency deals with natural threats to these areas’ ecosystems, the influx of visitors, and the vital need to restore these lands and make them available for activities from hiking to scientific research. We took a look at 15 places in the National Landscape Conservation System to evaluate how effectively these lands are being managed.
The seven management areas we reviewed are:
- Leadership Empowerment, and Accountability
- Planning for Resource Conservation
- Protecting Wild and Primitive Character
- Visitor Management and Law Enforcement
- Natural Resource Monitoring
- Ecosystem and Species Health
- Cultural Resource Management
Our analysis gave the BLM a C+ — an improvement from the first assessment, but still far from where the BLM needs to be. Using our research and conversations with staff that manage these places, our assessment presents some specific policy recommendations to BLM that would benefit the National Conservation Lands, and supports our collective goal of having a system that is managed well enough to ensure that generations can experience America’s unparalleled wild places.
These policy recommendations help shape our bold, yet attainable, vision for the National Landscape Conservation System over the next ten years and beyond. We envision a system that is committed to the unequivocal protection of the wildness that characterizes these landscapes, by managing for threats such as invasive species intrusion, and by conserving unique attributes, like archaeological sites and delicate landforms. The gaps we identify in our assessment, and recommendations we make, can guide the BLM in a positive direction in protecting these places.
Our assessment and our work here at the Wilderness Society aims to shift the focus of BLM towards conservation so that the National Conservation Lands can become a robust system of untrammeled lands. Next month the BLM and Department of Interior officials will be gathering in Las Vegas for a four-day summit to plan for the future of the National Landscape Conservation System. We hope our research and recommendations can help inform that discussion. Our President, William H. Meadows will be leading a panel discussion at the event. The BLM needs to identify and embrace a vision for the National Landscape Conservation System that puts conservation at the core of every action it takes and to ensure our National Conservation Lands can become a shining beacon of 21st century American conservation