America’s Newest System of public lands
The National Conservation Lands, established by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in 2000, comprise over 31 million acres of the most ecologically rich and culturally significant of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. They are found throughout the West, Alaska and even extend to the East Coast. They are our nation’s newest collection of protected public lands—standing in stature with our National Parks, National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges.
Composed of National Monuments and National Conservation Areas, Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails and more, these places reflect our understanding that truly conserving natural and cultural resources means protecting large areas—entire ecosystems and archaeological communities.
The National Conservation Lands also give people from all walks of life the chance to experience the West as it once was, on their own terms. From fishing the Gold Medal trout waters of Colorado’s Gunnison River to world-class rock climbing in Red Rock Canyon, from hiking the rugged coastline of California’s Lost Coast in the King Range National Conservation Area to whitewater rafting on Oregon’s John Day River. Solitude, adventure, thrill and renewal—all this and more can be experienced on the National Conservation Lands.
The lands, rivers and trails within the National Conservation Lands have been designated for protection, but they are also incredibly vulnerable. They face abuse from reckless oil and gas drilling and irresponsible off-road vehicle use. They are subject to looting, senseless vandalism and more. Why is this?
In part, they are grossly underfunded. These lands receive only $65 million a year for their protection and management—a paltry $2.40 per acre, compared to $30.56 per acre spent on National Parks.
And for many years, the Bureau of Land Management had a reputation as a commodity-driven agency. Some even called it, disparagingly, the Bureau of “Leasing and Mining.” To change this, the Conservation Lands Foundation is pushing for a culture shift within the agency to better balance habitat conservation with resource extraction.
Threats to these lands also come from some members of Congress, who make repeated attempts to repeal the Antiquities Act—an essential conservation tool if we are to expand our National Conservation Lands.
By making more people aware of these special places—as stunning as any National Park and as ecologically important as any National Wildlife Refuge—we can assure their long-term protection.