Report: National Conservation Lands chronically underfunded
Funding issues have led to vandalism and neglect. Our iconic western lands deserve better.
National Conservation Lands include some of our most treasured western monuments and wild areas — the Iditarod Trail in Alaska, Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, the Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana to name a few — but chronic underfunding is putting some of these places at risk, according to a new Wilderness Society report.
The Wilderness Society’s new 2015 State of the National Conservation Lands (PDF) report, the third in a series, found that congressional failure to fund the National Landscape Conservation System has left precious western monuments, conservation areas, and other historic and archaeological sites without the adequate law enforcement or staff-support to properly manage cultural resources and ecosystem health. The Wilderness Society has evaluated management of the National Conservation Lands since their creation 15 years ago and is frustrated to report that lack of funding is keeping the BLM from fulfilling its conservation legacy.
Due to the funding crisis, the National Conservation Lands are not adequately protected. For instance, fragile archaeological sites in places like the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada and the Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona continually face vandalism due to lack of law enforcement and poorly managed off-road vehicle use near these cultural sites.
Other special places featured in our photo gallery face problems such as a lack of empowered leadership, wildlife habitat fragmentation by roads, and inadequate inventories of cultural resources and invasive species. These challenges prevent the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from developing and implementing the protective management these areas need.
The new report found that BLM did make improvements in recreation planning, species monitoring, public collaboration, and visitor management over the last 15 years. Unfortunately, Congress refuses to properly fund the BLM to manage the National Conservation Lands, so the agency continues to struggle to adequately protect these stunning units and their nationally-significant resources. As a result, we urge Congress to take stronger action to protect these special landscapes by giving BLM the funding it needs.
National Conservation Lands represent some of America’s most spectacular landscapes
The National Conservation Lands include more than 850 natural landscapes, historic areas, and archaeological sites, including Colorado’s Canyon of the Ancients, Alaska’s Iditarod Trail, and Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. These lands are often referred to as the BLM’s version of the national parks.
The National Landscape Conservation System was established in 2000 to conserve, protect and restore places like:
- 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.
Although often lesser-known than national parks, the National Conservation Lands are just as impressive. They offer world-class outdoor recreation opportunities in addition to outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific values.
The 30 million acres of BLM-managed 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.
Unfortunately, the wild and scenic lands and waters in this relatively new public lands system are under constant pressure of development, vandalism, misuse and neglect. Inadequate funding and staffing hinders the agency from providing needed law enforcement in many places, which only leaves these fragile sites at risk for further damage.
Give the National Conservation Lands the protection they deserve
The BLM has the opportunity to showcase our nation’s extraordinary wild places, but the agency cannot preserve these treasured landscapes for future generations without proper funding. Congress needs to step up and give the BLM the resources it needs to adequately protect the National Conservation Lands.
“There are some anti-conservation members in Congress, such as House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, who have proposed to defund the System entirely,” said Nada Culver, Director of the BLM Action Center at The Wilderness Society. “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.”
Tour some of the treasures of the National Conservation Lands
Originally published at wilderness.org.