Celebrating our National Conservation Lands: 10 years young

Grand Staircase-Escalanate National Monument, Utah. Courtesy BLM.

Celebrations are happening across the country this month to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the National Landscape Conservation System, which protects some of country’s most beloved lands and unique cultural sites.

Since its birth, the National Landscape Conservation System, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, has come a long way.

During the first decade of the National Landscape Conservation System, The Wilderness Society has promoted National Conservation Lands by working with decision makers, the public and the BLM to ensure the system has needed resources and that the BLM manages National Conservation Lands with best conservation practices.

When the Department of the Interior initiated the program aimed at protecting public lands across the country, the system immediately added nearly 928,000 acres of Wilderness, a National Monument, four National Conservation Areas, 367 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, and 40 miles of National Scenic and Historic Trails.

Today our National Conservation Lands include hundreds of unique places.

Last year, The Wilderness Society played a critical role in permanently establishing the National Landscape Conservation System under law, joining alongside America’s other great land conservation systems — National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges. Celebrations are now commemorating ten years of steady growth and protection.

What began with relatively humble roots now includes over 900 units covering about 27 million acres of land that includes:

  • 16 national monuments, including Colorado’s Canyon of the Ancients, Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
  • 16 national conservation areas, including California’s King Range and Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Areas.
  • More than 60 wild and scenic rivers.
  • More than 220 wilderness areas.
  • More than 5,500 miles of national scenic and historic trails, including the Oregon National Historic Trail and the Pony Express National Historic Trail.
  • 545 wilderness study areas and other areas designated for conservation, including a cooperative management and protection area; a forest reserve, and three outstanding natural areas.

Find our map of these amazing lands. As you will see, there are a lot of places and reasons to celebrate!

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Courtesy BLM.The mission of the National Conservation Lands is 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." The vision for the Conservation Lands is still to be elucidated, and this is where The Wilderness Society comes in. Working with our partners and most importantly, our members, we have a tremendous opportunity to make certain that these lands meet the challenges of the 21st century. Now is the time to steer the Bureau of Land Management in a direction that absolutely and unequivocally prioritizes conservation of these lands over all other uses.

Long gone should be the days when the Bureau, the nation’s biggest land manager, was known only as a permitting agency for cattle ranchers and miners. Today the American people have a chance to add a nucleus of conservation to the agencies mandate. The seed as been cast with the establishment of the National Landscape Conservation System. Together we can help foster the change of culture within the nation’s largest land manager that allows it more readily accept its responsibility to be better stewards over ALL of the lands it manages.

Grand Staircase-Escalanate National Monument, Utah. Courtesy BLM.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Courtesy BLM.