Decade of Discovery brings science to discussion of National Conservation Lands

Tony microsaur amphibian tracks discovered at the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. Photo by Jerry Paul MacDonald.

I recently arrived home after a week in the Land of Enchantment, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Several of my Wilderness Society colleagues gathered for a week long symposium, organized by the Bureau of Land Management, to discuss science within the National Landscape Conservation System. “Decade of Discovery” presented an opportunity to highlight how we bring science, legal, and policy expertise to the issues affecting the National Landscape Conservation System and how we work to ensure the Bureau of Land Management utilizes the best science and policies to further the conservation mandate of these lands. While this conference was not organized by or for The Wilderness Society, we played a valuable role

The Conservation System is America’s newest and best idea for our public lands, just like theNational Parks and National Wildlife Refuges before it, the National Landscape Conservation System—aka Conservation Lands—mark a remarkable historic opportunity for the BLM to manage our public lands for all of us, for the future. The Wilderness Society is leading the charge in advocating for an active and visionary stewardship of these spectacular lands—all 27 million acres and growing. We were very excited and honored to present three very distinct papers at this 10th Anniversary event in Albuquerque.

Our research department vice president Spencer Phillips discussed climate change and the ecosystem services and contributions of our public lands as we face unprecedented challenges to species and ecosystem adaptation. Nada Culver and Phil Hanceford from our BLM Action Center emphasized the new paradigm at the BLM where land use plans for several of the monuments and national conservation areas are now more clearly focused on conservation. Michelle Haefele rounded out The Wilderness Society’s presence with an update on our case study of the potential economic benefits from the establishment of the Carrizo Plain National Monument in California.

The week brought together scientists and researchers, agency officials and advocates. The goal was to celebrate not what HAS occurred on our national conservation lands, but what CAN occur if we focus management on conservation strategies and actions that preserve these incredible resources. It was also clear that there are challenges. Grand Staircase Escalante Partners described the dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers that have been published or are being published from work within the Monument, but the BLM now faces a ZERO budget for supporting this kind of research in the future at that Monument! How can the Conservation Lands be a “living lab” when support for scientific research on these lands is being shortchanged?

Whether it was Jerry Macdonald discussing the international significance of the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument in New Mexico or Peter Landres exploring how we manage our wild places to keep them wild, the event showed what a tremendous opportunity to make clear and certain that our national conservation lands are managed for conservation above all other uses. "Decade of Discovery" showed that there is much work that can and should be done.

photo: Tony microsaur amphibian tracks discovered at the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. Photo by Jerry Paul MacDonald.