Secretary Salazar Orders Better Protections for our Conservation Lands

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This year we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the National Landscape Conservation System, also known as our National Conservation Lands. This vast array of western lands has been protected by Congressional or Presidential action to conserve their unique and outstanding values. Recently these treasured public lands were given extra protection through a Secretarial Order announced by the Department of the Interior.

This spectacular system of great American landscapes was made permanent by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. The National Landscape Conservation System includes 27 million acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and encompasses national monuments, wilderness areas, national conservation areas, wild and scenic rivers, and national historic and scenic trails.

Secretary Ken Salazar's Order acknowledges that “there is an ever increasing need to conserve the open spaces that are a unique and priceless part of America’s heritage,” and sets forth new policies for the BLM to be sound stewards of the specially designated lands it manages. Primarily, the BLM must ensure that components of our National Conservation Lands are managed to protect the values for which they were designated. For example, national monuments and other conservation lands can be designated to preserve cultural artifacts, wilderness and wildlife habitat, scientific research opportunities, and many other values. These resources must take priority when BLM determines what other uses are permitted on those lands.

The Order also recognizes that our National Conservation Lands contribute significantly to our western way of life. “Conservation is a long-term investment that provides quality of life and economic benefits for current and future generations," said Secretary Salazar. In his remarks announcing the new order, Salazar emphasized the important role protected public lands play in boosting rural economies.

We believe the new order gives BLM a long-needed mandate to truly prioritize protection of the significant values that exist on the National Conservation Lands. The lands that make up the National Landscape Conservation System represent a small sliver of the 245 million acres of public lands managed by the BLM. In designating these areas for conservation, Congress (or the President) directed the BLM to elevate these special places and ensure they are protected for future generations.

The Order also raises the expectation that BLM will rely on sound science to properly manage protected lands, including by addressing these areas in the context of their larger landscapes. This will be ever more important as land managers grapple with the impacts of climate change, and we hope our National Conservation Lands will provide much-needed ecological connectivity and refuges for wildlands and wildlife to adapt to a changing climate.

As the National Landscape Conservation System approaches the end of its 10th anniversary year, we are glad to see the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management making a more meaningful commitment to protecting our public lands.