WASHINGTON — New guidance issued this week by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could lead to stronger protection of the agency’s national monuments and other conservation areas. The “instructional memorandum” issued by the agency confirms that the protection of environmental or cultural resources in these areas should be the management priority for these lands.
“The BLM has confirmed that places like the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument are special and therefore deserve to be managed to a higher standard,” said Hugo Turek a rancher from Coffee Creek, Montana. “We have been making the argument for years that these unique landscapes deserve a higher standard of care than other BLM lands.”
The BLM’s guidance should settle conflicts around national monuments or other areas created by proclamations or acts of Congress in situations where language in the proclamations contradicts BLM’s “multiple-use” mandate. Generally, “multiple use” provides for a variety of uses, many of which can cause harm to natural or cultural values that these special lands were designated to protect. The guidance confirms that where there is a conflict with broader multiple-use standards, the designating language supersedes it. In addition to Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks, national monuments that stand to benefit from the new BLM guidance include Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
“We have consistently been disappointed that management plans for BLM national monuments and other conservation areas too often do not prioritize the protection of the very resources these places were created to highlight,” said Wilderness Society Senior Counsel Nada Culver. “The BLM has now made it clear that conservation trumps other uses, and that’s good news for everyone who wants to see these special places appropriately protected for future generations, which we know includes many BLM managers.”
There have been exceptions to that trend, however. The draft management plan for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado sought to prioritize the valuable resources noted in the proclamation that established the monument. The plan establishes guidelines to protect the monument’s archaeological sites within their historic natural landscape, allowing for recreation and other uses only insofar that they can be consistent with protecting those values the area was designated to protect.
Most of the lands impacted by the decision are part of BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System, which was made permanent in March 2009 as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act. According to Culver, the BLM’s new decision relies on the argument that monuments and national conservation areas are different than other BLM lands and should therefore be managed first and foremost for the conservation of natural and cultural resources over other uses found in the multiple-use mandate.
Here are some examples of proclamation language for key monuments that stand to be benefit from the new BLM guidance:
Canyons of the Ancients (Colorado)
Containing the highest known density of archaeological sites in the Nation, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument holds evidence of cultures and traditions spanning thousands of years. This area, with its intertwined natural and cultural resources, is a rugged landscape, a quality that greatly contributes to the protection of its scientific and historic objects. The monument offers an unparalleled opportunity to observe, study, and experience how cultures lived and adapted over time in the American Southwest.
Cascade Siskiyou (Oregon)
With towering fir forests, sunlit oak groves, wildflower-strewn meadows, and steep canyons, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is an ecological wonder, with biological diversity unmatched in the Cascade Range. This rich enclave of natural resources is a biological crossroads--the interface of the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou ecoregions, in an area of unique geology, biology, climate, and topography. The monument is home to a spectacular variety of rare and beautiful species of plants and animals, whose survival in this region depends upon its continued ecological integrity. Plant communities present a rich mosaic of grass and shrublands, Garry and California black oak woodlands, juniper scablands, mixed conifer and white fir forests, and wet meadows. Stream bottoms support broad-leaf deciduous riparian trees and shrubs. Special plant communities include rosaceous chaparral and oak-juniper woodlands. The monument also contains many rare and endemic plants, such as Greene's Mariposa lily, Gentner's fritillary, and Bellinger's meadowfoam.
The monument supports an exceptional range of fauna, including one of the highest diversities of butterfly species in the United States. The Jenny Creek portion of the monument is a significant center of fresh water snail diversity, and is home to three endemic fish species, including a long-isolated stock of redband trout. The monument contains important populations of small mammals, reptile and amphibian species, and ungulates, including important winter habitat for deer. It also contains old growth habitat crucial to the threatened Northern spotted owl and numerous other bird species such as the western bluebird, the western meadowlark, the pileated woodpecker, the flammulated owl, and the pygmy nuthatch.
Grand Canyon-Parashant (Arizona)
The Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument is a vast, biologically diverse,impressive landscape encompassing an array of scientific and historic objects. This remote area of open, undeveloped spaces and engaging scenery is located on the edge of one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Grand Canyon. Despite the hardships created by rugged isolation and the lack of natural waters, the monument has a long and rich human history spanning more than 11,000 years, and an equally rich geologic history spanning almost 2 billion years. Full of natural splendor and a sense of solitude, this area remains remote and unspoiled, qualities that are essential to the protection of the scientific and historic resources it contains. The monument is a geological treasure.
Upper Missouri River Breaks (Montana)
The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument contains a spectacular array of biological, geological, and historical objects of interest. From Fort Benton upstream into the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, the monument spans 149 miles of the Upper Missouri River, the adjacent Breaks country, and portions of Arrow Creek, Antelope Creek, and the Judith River. The area has remained largely unchanged in the nearly 200 years since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled through it on their epic journey. In 1976, the Congress designated the Missouri River segment and corridor in this area a National Wild and Scenic River (Public Law 94-486, 90 Stat. 2327). The monument also encompasses segments of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, and the Cow Creek Island Area of Critical Environmental Concern.