Happy birthday to America’s ‘other’ national park system

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Utah), part of the BLM's National Landscape Conservation System. 

Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

June 19 marks the 15th anniversary of the Bureau of Land Management's National Conservation Lands, a little-known network of wilderness, monuments and other treasured landscapes that needs your help.

The National Conservation Lands are considered the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) version of the national parks—iconic places that safeguard tremendous scenery, wildlife habitat and archaeological resources. But like other American public lands and the agencies that manage them, they have been chronically underfunded, and need Congress’ help.

Ask Congress to restore essential funding for public lands!

“Funding for the system hasn’t even kept pace with inflation, yet these unique landscapes are vital economic drivers,” said Cameron Witten, government relations associate with The Wilderness Society. “The National Conservation Lands deserve additional federal investment.”

“An underappreciated American treasure”

The National Conservation Lands, collectively the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), are indeed unique. Comprising hundreds of sites and about 30 million acres across the American West, they include 21 national monuments and more than 200 wilderness areas

Learn more: What are the National Conservation Lands?

“The National Conservation Lands are an underappreciated American treasure, representing the crown jewels of the varied landscapes managed by the BLM,” said Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations for lands at The Wilderness Society. “From Colorado’s Browns Canyon National Monument to Oregon’s Steens Mountain Wilderness, the National Conservation Lands stand alongside the national parks, forests and wildlife refuges as shining examples of our unique natural heritage.”

Maps: explore the National Conservation Lands

The Wilderness Society led the effort to establish the National Conservation Lands in 2000, and has since worked to promote their long-term care and hold the BLM accountable to fulfill the office’s mission to “conserve, protect, and restore” places that are considered the most prized of all BLM lands for their ecological and cultural value. In 2009, The Wilderness Society played a vital role in the campaign to make the National Landscape Conservation System permanent, fortifying it as along-term tool to protect lands for future generations.

Starved for funding

Beyond conservation, sustaining the National Conservation Lands makes good business sense. A Jan. 2015 report titled “Green Investments” from The Wilderness Society and other groups, which highlighted the need for lawmakers to appropriately fund programs that safeguard America’s natural resources, used the National Conservation Lands as an example of federal land agencies’ importance and high return on investment: while the National Conservation Lands make up only about 10 percent of the lands under BLM control, they draw roughly one-third of annual visitors to those lands, creating or sustaining more than 20,000 jobs while receiving less than $2.50 per acre in federal funding.

Unfortunately, despite their immense value, the National Conservation Lands have been shortchanged for years. Take a look at a few of the amazing places managed under the National Conservation Lands and ask Congress to stand up for public lands and conservation.

Take Action: Ask Congress to make sure public lands and conservation are funded fairly

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument (New Mexico)

Credit: BLM, flickr.

Protected by President Obama under the Antiquities Act in 2013, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico has been a priority of The Wilderness Society for years. The area contains critical habitat for elk, bald eagle, peregrine falcon and other species, as well as outdoor recreation opportunities like hiking, biking, camping, rafting, hunting and fishing.

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (Montana)

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

Containing the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, the most popular segment of the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail and 149 miles of the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River, Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is a truly diverse and breathtaking landscape. This rugged stretch of bluffs and badlands (and the namesake Upper Missouri River) provides habitat for elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer and dozens of species of fish.

Eagletail Mountains Wilderness (Arizona)

Credit: BLM, flickr.

Protected by Congress in 1990, Eagletail Mountains Wilderness includes 15 miles of the Eagletail Mountains ridgeline and is a delight for geology buffs and hikers alike. Among the wilderness area’s arches, spires and other incredible landscape features, Courthouse Rock, a huge chunk of granite rising from the desert floor, beckons rock-climbers. Other highlights include petroglyphs thousands of years old.

Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area (Colorado)

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

In west-central Colorado, Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area covers nearly 63,000 acres of rugged land popular for recreational activities like trout fishing, hiking and horseback riding. It is probably best known for the Gunnison River a highly challenging whitewater attraction that draws kayakers, rafters and canoers from around the region. More than a quarter of Gunnison Gorge NCA is protected as Gunnison Gorge Wilderness, which provides habitat for elk, mule deer, river otter and other wildlife species.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (Colorado)

Photo: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

Colorado's Canyons of the Ancients National Monument protects an archaeologically rich landscape of primarily Ancestral Puebloan ruins recording some 10,000 years of human habitation. Thousands of archaeological sites have been recorded in the monument area to date, including up to 100 per square mile in some places--perhaps the highest density of such sites anywhere in the U.S. Hiking and horseback riding are among popular outdoor recreation activities in the monument.

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Arizona/Utah)

Credit: James Gordon.

Comprising 112,500 acres within the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness features some of the most stunning vistas in the entire National Wilderness Preservation System. The namesake Paria Canyon is a twisting chute of red rock, so captivating that some hikers set aside several days to see it all. The striped, sandstone Vermilion Cliffs, reaches heights of 3,000 feet in some places,

San Juan Islands National Monument (Washington)

Credit: Jeff Clark (BLM), flickr.

San Juan Islands National Monument was declared a national monument by President Obama along with four other sites in 2013, and it has only boosted its standing as a great regional and national attraction. This archipelago in Puget Sound may be best known for a series of historic lighthouses, but it lays claim to an abundance of natural beauty as well: sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and hiking trails make it an increasingly popular destination for travelers. Animal inhabitants of the islands and their immediate area include black-tail deer, river otter, mink and marine life like orcas and seals.

King Range National Conservation Area (California)

Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.

Hugging the coast of Northern California, most of the King Range National Conservation Area is protected as the King Range Wilderness, a stretch of beaches, verdant fields and mountainous terrain that is thought to be the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the continental U.S. Wildlife species that call the area home include elk, black bear, osprey, bald eagle and many more. For human visitors, recreational options include hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and surfing.

Steens Mountain Wilderness (Oregon)

Photo: BLM, flickr.

A remote piece of the wild Pacific Northwest, the 170,000-acre Steens Mountain Wilderness features the largest fault block mountain in North America (a phenomenon that occurs when great pressure forces one rock mass to break away from another) and staggeringly blue lakes. Popular outdoor recreation activities in this photographer’s mecca include camping, picnicking, hiking and sightseeing.