America’s Hidden Treasures: Discover the National Landscape Conservation System

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Courtesy BLM.

The sky above the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana was big and blue and the scene sublime as Kevin Mack hiked along a stretch of the Wild and Scenic Missouri River.

“This area preserves remarkable scenery and important history,” Mack reminisces. “It contains bluffs and badlands, wilderness, nearly 150 miles of the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, and the premier segment of the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail. Along this trail, you can see things as Captains Lewis and Clark did on their epic journey over 200 years ago.”

For Mack, this is far more than a day out of the office. As National Landscape Conservation System campaign director for The Wilderness Society, he spends his days fighting for a system of lands you may have never heard of.

Sonoran Desert National Monument. Courtesy BLM.Despite its low profile, however, the Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System contains an enormous number of our nation’s wildest and most historically significant public lands. Ranging from snow-covered peaks and carpets of wildflowers to winding rivers, lush streams, and high desert plateaus, the National Landscape Conservation System protects the crown jewels of the public lands managed by the BLM.

These lands are so important that Congress and the President approved legislation in late March that permanently establishes the National Landscape Conservation System — ensuring that these spectacular lands are protected for future generations.

Headwaters Forest Reserve, California. Courtesy BLM.The national monuments, conservation areas, rivers, trails, and wilderness that make up the Conservation System contain extraordinary natural and cultural resources, offer world-class outdoor recreation opportunities, and maintain the remote and wild character of some of our country’s most significant landscapes.

It includes more than 800 individual units: 16 National Monuments, 17 National Conservation Areas, Steens Mountain Cooperative Management Protection Area in Oregon, Headwaters Forest Reserve in northern California, more than 38 Wild and Scenic Rivers, more than 183 Wilderness Areas, more than 5,100 miles of National Scenic and Historic Trails, and approximately 600 Wilderness Study Areas.

The Conservation System offers the spectacular qualities of the National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges. What makes the System different from its counterparts is its emphasis on protecting large landscapes – entire ecosystems and archaeological communities – instead of small, isolated tracts surrounded by development.

Agua Fria National Monument, Arizona. Photo by Kerrick James.Arizona's Agua Fria National Monument contains hundreds of archaeological structures and sites. To understand the story these sites tell, the monument includes surrounding lands where their inhabitants traded, hunted, and farmed. Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument encompasses 800,000 acres, including parts of the watershed of the Grand Canyon.

The Wilderness Society is working to ensure this system of hidden natural and cultural treasures is adequately-funded, well-planned, and inclusive of the Bureau of Land Management's very best lands and waters.

“The lands and waters of the National Landscape Conservation System are some of the most beautiful and ecologically significant landscapes on this continent,” Mack says.

“The Wilderness Society believes that the conservation, protection and restoration of the resources found within this new conservation system should be of paramount importance. Our vision for the Conservation System ensures that all lands and waters within the Conservation System are guaranteed these protections.”

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Montana. Courtesy BLM.
Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona. Courtesy BLM.
Headwaters Forest Reserve, California. Courtesy BLM.
Agua Fria National Monument, Arizona. Photo by Kerrick James.