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National Landscape Conservation System: One of America's Most Endangered Historic Places

In June 2005, the National Trust for Historic Preservation ( listed the National Landscape Conservation System as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Such a designation has proved, in the past, a powerful tool for raising public awareness of the dangers of insufficient funding and inappropriate development, both of which threaten the NLCS. The National Landscape Conservation System encompasses America’s history in its natural wilderness context, and this recognition demonstrates the need for increased resources to protect these cultural and historic assets.

Press release

Take Action: Ask Interior Secretary Norton to make conservation of these nationally historic places a top priority for the Bureau of Land Management

America’s National Heritage: The Truly “Wild” West

  • The National Landscape Conservation System includes 26 million acres of land in 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. National Monuments, Conservation Areas, Wilderness, Historic Trails, and Wild and Scenic Rivers are all protected under the NLCS.
  • The vision of the NLCS is unique in that it seeks to protect entire landscapes, rather than isolated patches of wilderness, so that visitors can experience the history and culture of the West by seeing the land just as the first Americans and pioneers did hundreds of years ago.
  • The cultural and historic resources include Native American artifacts and sacred spaces; migration trails of the first Western explorers; settlement camps and burial grounds; and prehistoric fossils. But these historic remnants are housed in their natural and original contexts—not in a museum, but hidden among the majesty of wild rivers, canyons, mountain ranges and deserts.
Snapshots from the National Landscape Conservation System

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, ColoradoLowry Pueblo Ruins, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, CO. Photo courtesy of BLM

Amid sheer sandstone cliffs, mesa rock desert and deep canyons, the semi-arid Southwest is home to the most dense concentration of archaeological sites in the nation, the marks and traditions of over 10,000 years of human occupation. Dating from the hunter-gatherer Paleo-Indians to the Pueblo-dwelling Anasazi, to the Ute, Navajo and European settlement periods, remains of great kivas, sweat lodges, field houses, shrines and petroglyphs live side-by-side with the wildlife that occupies the monument today.

However, since the Bureau of Land Management has such limited funds to contribute to monuments like Canyons of the Ancients, the artifacts found there are in danger of being lost to vandalism and visitor misuse. Already, many structures have been defaced or altered, damaging the integrity of the site’s cultural value. To preserve the archeological values and maintain history in its natural context, the BLM must limit off-road vehicle use to prevent site damage and carefully plan transportation routes to the sites.

Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, MontanaUpper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, MT.  Photo by Diane Frank

Along the last remaining undeveloped stretch of the great river explored by Lewis and Clark lie the settlements of numerous Indian tribes and pioneers. Magnificent rock formations still inspire visitors as they did Captain Lewis over 200 years ago, towering over the habitat that supports some of the most viable elk and big horn sheep herds in the Northwest.

Although the landscape of this wild river was designated for the purpose of conservation, insensitive development plans for the area threaten this unchanged environment. Current plans for six airstrips, 1,000 miles of user-created roads, a timber program and even more gas drilling than is currently allowed threaten to erase much of the history within this monument. Alternative plans must be developed to keep this unique chronicle of American history intact.

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona

The staggering peaks and valleys of this monument support an expansive range of biological diversity, and provide a natural laboratory for both scientists and archaeologists. Geologic activity chronicled in the rock formations allows scientists to study the climatic changes of our continent, and important archaeological artifacts from Native Americans and Western explorers remain largely untouched due to the area’s isolation.

However, the proliferation of visitors to the area, due to the proximity of the Grand Canyon National Park and urban areas, puts the wildlife and geography of this monument at risk. Without a strong conservation plan and adequate resources to implement that plan, the monument’s incredible resources could be damaged by expanding populations around the monument, related development, and uncontrolled off-road vehicle use.

Threats to the History and Culture of the American West

  • A severe lack of funding limits the BLM’s ability to provide adequate staff and educational programs for the NLCS sites, which would help educate visitors about the site’s cultural values and curb misuse.
  • Off-road vehicle use remains largely unchecked and poorly supervised and directly contributes to the degradation of sites and artifacts .
  • Expanding urban populations, as well as suburban and even rural sprawl directly adjacent to NLCS units, increasingly impact NLCS lands and waters.
  • Grazing and energy development can compromise the integrity of ancient structures and artifacts either by direct damage or by disturbing their place within the site.
  • A lack of cultural surveys of the land and archaeological sites in the NLCS is perhaps the largest obstacle to sufficiently protecting these historical resources. These American treasures are being destroyed or damaged before we can chronicle their location and evaluate their value.

Take Action: Ask Interior Secretary Norton to make conservation of these nationally historic places a top priority for the Bureau of Land Management