New Report Shows Nation's Prized Conservation Lands Struggle without Adequate Funding

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In a new report, The Wilderness Society recommends that Congress and the Administration take stronger measures to protect America's prized National Conservation Lands under care of the Bureau of Land Management.

In a new report, the third in a series, The Wilderness Society recommends that Congress and the Administration take stronger measures to protect America’s National Conservation Lands. Managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Conservation Lands were established in 2000 to conserve, protect and restore nationally significant lands recognized for their outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific values.

The 30 million acres of National Conservation Lands are natural and cultural treasures, and include National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails and other protected places.

The Wilderness Society’s Third Assessment found improvements in planning, protection of wild lands and visitor management over the past five years and over the 15 years since the creation of the system and the corresponding evaluations by The Wilderness Society. Now, nearly all designated Conservation Lands are better known and appreciated by the public. However, the lack of adequate funding for National Conservation Lands continues to hamper BLM’s ability to improve leadership, increase law enforcement, restore ecosystem health and protect cultural resources.

For example, fragile archaeological sites and rock art around both the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada and the Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona are continually vandalized due to a lack of law enforcement and poorly managed off-road vehicle uses near these cultural sites. Although designated almost 20 years ago, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah still does not have a grazing management plan, forcing the agency to rely on management plans from the early 1980s.

Other problems in these areas include lack of consistent leadership and persistent habitat fragmentation by roads, as well as inadequate inventories of cultural resources, special status species or non-native, invasive species. These consistent problems keep BLM from coming up with needed protective management strategies.

“Our BLM conservation lands face continuous threats – ranging from underfunding to complete defunding to threats of undoing the system altogether, as well as development of backcountry areas and damage to our shared heritage of cultural resources,” said Nada Culver, Director of the BLM Action Center at The Wilderness Society. “It’s high time our elected leaders start listening to the American people, who want to protect the cultural treasures, wildlife and clean air and water that make our public lands the premier destinations for visitors from around the world.”

Examples of National Conservation Lands managed by BLM include:

  •     The Iditarod Trail in Alaska, used by thousands of winter recreation enthusiasts, subsistence hunters, inter-village travelers and long-distance winter races.
  •     The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado near Mesa Verde National Park, which contains the greatest known density of archaeological sites in the United States.
  •     The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area in New Mexico, a landscape of visually stunning badlands and hoodoos.
  •     The Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, a living museum of the historic Lewis and Clark expedition across the Northwest.

In The Wilderness Society’s “Third Assessment Report,” the group urges Congress and the Administration to improve management for the National Conservation Lands by:

  •     Prioritizing landscape restoration and fostering ecosystem and species health, along with reducing the impact of roads and development on wildlife habitat and wildness.
  •     Increasing BLM’s budget to improve law enforcement, leadership and actual management across all National Conservation Lands.
  •     Expanding the National Conservation Lands to include all important and still unprotected BLM managed landscapes and waterbodies across the West.

“There are some in Congress, such as House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, who believe the National Conservation Lands to be ‘unnecessary’ and have proposed to defund the System entirely,” (Summit County Citizens Voice, March 9, 2015, http://summitcountyvoice.com/2015/03/09/cherished-colorado-areas-at-risk-as-house-gop-seeks-to-strip-funding-for-national-conservation-lands/) said Culver. “This report shows the need for the opposite. We need more funding and better management of our BLM conservation lands to provide the American people with more access to hunting, fishing, camping, research, restoration and for cleaner air and water throughout the West.”

The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 700,000 members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. http://www.wilderness.org.

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