The idea of a BLM system of specially protected areas began in 1970 when Congress created the King Range National Conservation Area on the pacific coast of northern California. Between 1970 and 1996, Congress created seven other NCAs, including such areas as Red Rock Canyon in Nevada and the Birds of Prey in Idaho. With these designations a pattern emerged: the protection of special areas where conservation and restoration of the landscape and its biological diversity is the overriding objective.
President Clinton gave this evolution a dramatic push forward by establishing in 1996 the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in Southern Utah. Establishing National Monuments isn't uncommon; in fact, 14 U.S. Presidents have used The Antiquities Act of 1906 to preserve public lands as 118 National Monuments. But the designation of Grand Staircase was different: not only was this the largest national monument in the continental United States, it was also the first national monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
In the past, National Monuments were turned over to the National Park Service. With Grand Staircase, however, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt saw an opportunity to begin to transform the BLM from an agency historically focused on commodity extraction to a conservation-oriented agency. As the nation's largest land manager, with 260 million acres of deserts, rangeland, forests and mountains under its jurisdiction, the BLM manages some of the best of the West, including fragile ecosystems and wildlife. And, by the end of 2001, the BLM had in its portfolio 15 national monuments -- one of which was designated by Congress--and five new legislatively established National Conservation Areas.
Given this growing collection of special BLM protected units, it was time to formally bring them together in a system, with a name and a structure within BLM. In 2001, the Clinton Administration announced the National Landscape Conservation System - a system that encompasses all Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Trails managed by BLM. The BLM's mandate is to manage these great landscapes to be "healthy, open, and wild."
Read about threats to the NLCS.