Report Finds BLM’s Finest Western Lands Suffering
-- Inadequate funding, staffing, monitoring, and accountability cited in first assessment of National Landscape Conservation System
For Immediate Release: October 26, 2005
Washington, DC – Inadequate funding and staffing have left the Bureau of Land Management ill-equipped to manage its premier Western lands, putting nationally significant natural and cultural resources at risk. The agency’s management shortcomings are detailed in a first assessment of the BLM’s 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), released today by the Wilderness Society and World Resources Institute.
“Conservation is supposed to be the priority for these places, but, despite the presence of many talented and committed managers, BLM simply is not getting the job done,” said The Wilderness Society’s Wendy VanAsselt, one of the authors of the report, State of the National Landscape Conservation System: A First Assessment. “The System needs more funding, more staffing, and a true commitment from Interior Department leadership to long-term protection of these irreplaceable treasures.”
The NLCS was established five years ago, under the leadership of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, to conserve, protect, and restore the Bureau of Land Management’s most scenic and significant lands and waters. It includes National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas, Historic Trails, and Wild and Scenic Rivers.
The report grades the BLM’s Conservation System in seven categories, based on a review of more than 35 indicators ranging from natural resource monitoring to accountability, and uses BLM data and information. The Conservation System scores no higher than a “C” in any category, although some individual places merited A’s and B’s for select issues of stewardship and management. The full report and background information is available at: http://www.wilderness.org/Library/Documents/StateOfTheNLCS2005.cfm
“The National Landscape Conservation System was created to safeguard landscapes that are as spectacular in their own way as our National Parks,” said former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt. “There is clear evidence, however, that we are at risk of moving backwards and failing to adequately protect these special American lands. The Department of the Interior and our leaders in Congress should take the recommendations of this report to heart and support the conservation mission of the NLCS before it is too late.”
The report asserts that BLM managers are hobbled by inadequate budgets. Although the NLCS represents approximately 10 percent of the 261 million acres managed by the BLM, including a large number of the BLM’s most publicly visited lands and waters, it receives just 2.5 percent of the Agency’s $1.8 billion budget. A consequence of this under-funding is a glaring lack of field staff to address inappropriate off-road vehicle use, vandalism, and other problems. For the 15 places assessed, each ranger patrols an average of 200,000 acres.
“Many of these National Monuments and Conservation areas already struggle with vandalism of archaeological sites, illegal off-road vehicle use, grazing damage, and the pressure of growing visitor use, as the lands around these protected areas become more developed,” said VanAsselt. “Unfortunately, almost every NLCS unit lacks adequate law enforcement staff, archaeological expertise, and scientists. The BLM also lacks the resources for comprehensive visitor management planning.”
Considered by many to be the “hidden treasures of the American West,” the lands and waters of the National Landscape Conservation System are experiencing rapidly increasing visitor numbers. For example, the number of visitors to the five BLM National Monuments in Arizona has doubled since 2000. Some of the fastest growing urban areas in the West border or surround NLCS lands, including Palm Springs, Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
Many NLCS lands are threatened by excessive road networks that fragment wildlife habitat and bring motorized vehicles perilously close to cultural resources, such as archeological sites that, in most cases, have not yet been studied by the BLM. On average, 50 percent of the land in NLCS monuments and conservation areas is within one-half mile of a road or travel route, and 90 percent is within two miles of a road or route.
The assessment also uncovered an urgent need for better monitoring by the BLM of the most special aspects of the Conservation System, such as threatened species, water quality, and cultural sites. For example, the agency has only comprehensively inventoried cultural and historic resources in an estimated 6-7 percent of the total area encompassed by the National Monuments and Conservation Areas, and monitoring programs are equally deficient.
“The BLM should view this report card as a wake-up call,” said Dr. David Jhirad, Vice-President of Science and Research for World Resources Institute. "The BLM must set clear conservation goals, and implement effective systems to hold themselves accountable for achieving those goals. The BLM needs to empower the staff of the NLCS, provide them with significantly more resources, and issue annual reports on its own performance."
The assessment includes recommendations to help BLM better protect the cultural and natural resources of the National Landscape Conservation System. Among them:
- Increased staffing and financial resources dedicated to the Conservation System by BLM.
- A better information base for conservation management, including more, or better-organized, data collection.
- Completion of overdue management plans and implementation strategies.
- Immediate closure of harmful roads and routes.
- Full utilization of volunteers and academic partnerships to inventory, monitor, and protect resources.
- Increased accountability, including the establishment of clear conservation goals specific to the National Landscape Conservation System, and a commitment from the agency to publicly track progress toward those goals.
“This report is important because it begins to create a system by which the BLM and the country can tell how well the National Landscape Conservation System is able to fulfill its mission,” said Dr. Anthony C. Janetos, Vice President at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment.
NLCS Issue Examined System score
Leadership, empowerment, and accountability D
Planning for resource conservation N/A*
Protecting Wild and primitive character C
Visitor management and law enforcement C
Natural resource monitoring C
Ecosystem and species heath N/A
Cultural resources management D
*N/A indicates not assessable due to insufficient data
To view the entire “State of the NLCS” report, including state-by-state assessments, visit, http://www.wilderness.org/Library/Documents/StateOfTheNLCS2005.cfm
The Wilderness Society’s mission is to ensure that future generations will enjoy the clean air and water, wildlife, beauty, and opportunity for recreation and renewal provided by pristine forests, rivers, deserts, and mountains.
The World Resources Institute is an environmental think tank that goes beyond research to create practical ways to protect the Earth and improve peoples' lives.
Contact: Wendy VanAsselt, The Wilderness Society, (202) 429-7431
Drew McConville, The Wilderness Society, (202) 429-7441
The National Landscape Conservation System at a Glance
Many National Landscape Conservation System units were created to protect contiguous landscapes that preserve the ecological or cultural integrity of some of the West’s most precious lands. For example, Arizona’s Agua Fria National Monument contains hundreds of archaeological structures and sites that were interrelated in a large community. To truly understand these ancient communities in context and tell their story, it is essential to look at the entire system of archaeological sites. Another example is the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, a truly landscape-scale unit that encompasses large parts of the watershed of the Grand Canyon adjacent to the park.
Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Landscape Conservation System includes:
- 15 National Monuments;
- 13 National Conservation Areas;
- Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area;
- Headwaters Forest Reserve;
- 38 Wild and Scenic Rivers;
- 175 Wilderness Areas;
- 5,327 miles of National Historic and Scenic Trails;
- more than 600 Wilderness Study Areas.
Flagship places in the National Landscape Conservation System include:
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument (Arizona) -- A remote area on the edge of one of the most awesome places on Earth, the Grand Canyon, this monument includes both stark desert and high plateaus and is home to a collage of species ranging from Mexican spotted owls to desert tortoises to mountain lions.
Carrizo Plains National Monument (California) -- Dramatically bisected by the San Andreas Fault zone, the Carrizo Plain is home to the largest concentration of endangered wildlife in all of California. Thirteen plant and animal species have been state or federally listed as endangered, including the California condor and the Joaquin kit fox.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (Colorado) -- This 164,000-acre national monument includes the densest concentration of Anasazi Indian sites in America—totaling more than 6,000 recorded sites so far.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Utah) -- In the heart of Utah’s Red Rock Country, this monument includes bold plateaus and multi-hued cliffs and slot canyons—a wonderland of recreational opportunities and one of the last places in America to experience true solitude.
Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (Montana) – Little has changed in this stretch of the Missouri River since Lewis and Clark traveled through the region more than 200 years ago. The monument includes some of the wildest country on the Great Plains. Its spectacular cliff and rugged coulees provide important habitat for elk, deer, antelope, and sage grouse.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (Oregon) – In southwest Oregon, Cascade-Siskiyou is a 53,000-acre landscape of exceptional geologic complexity and a gateway to one of the great reservoirs of biodiversity in North America. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (Nevada) – Just 10 miles from the city of Las Vegas, the mountains rise to a great colorful escarpment, formed along a fault zone with peaks of more than 8,000 feet and huge cliffs and ravines banded with gray, white, and red rock.
For more information about our National Monuments and the National Landscape Conservation System, visit http://www.discoverNLCS.org