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Threats to the National Landscape Conservation System

The designation of some of the most important BLM lands as the National Landscape Conservation System raises their profile, but doesn't mean they're highly protected. In fact, the spectacular lands and cultural treasures in the NLCS suffer from a multitude of immediate threats and conflicting uses, including:

Nascent or weak land use plans and policies

Each National Monument and National Conservation Area in the NLCS was established by a unique proclamation or law that describes what scientific and historic resources must be protected. But specific rules about how resources will be protected and what uses are allowed in each place stem from the "resource management plans" which the BLM must develop through a multi-year public process. Many of these plans are in the works right now, but meanwhile most NLCS lands remain vulnerable to road building, off-road vehicle abuse, energy exploration, and other uses (see below). Even where management plans have been developed, many of the wild and special places in the NLCS are plagued by poor on-the-ground enforcement and inadequate implementation of plan provisions or restoration efforts.

Road-building and habitat fragmentation

Mining, logging, and oil and gas operations bring the added threat of roads to some of this country's most precious public lands, including lands in the NLCS. These roads break large, ecologically viable public lands into more vulnerable sub-units and also whittle away at the edges of unprotected wild areas.

Rampant energy exploration and mining

Oil companies are increasingly focusing on or operating in the most valuable and fragile public lands, including lands that until recently have been considered too special to drill. Even as millions of acres are opened to oil and gas drilling--or as studies show that little recoverable oil and gas is available on these lands--industry proponents seek to further weaken environmental safeguards that are designed to ensure that future generations have a chance to enjoy and learn from these special places.

Within the National Monuments in the NLCS, commercial leases generally continue, though new mining and drilling leasing sometimes can be stopped through the management plans (see above).


Suburban growth, and the "rural sprawl" that occurs far from major cities, is bringing people, noise, air pollution, roads, invasive species, and demands for water to seemingly remote NLCS lands. Three new BLM monuments, for example, are in the same part of Arizona that's also the fastest growing: Agua Fria, Ironwood Forest, and Sonoran Desert are all near the expanding suburbs of Tucson and Phoenix; new subdivisions are pushing right up to Monument edges. Nearby growth also typically brings more visitors to NLCS lands; without adequate visitor education and law enforcement staff, more recreational use, in turn, leads to more artifact damage, garbage dumping, "pot hunting," and vandalism in wildlands.

Increasing off-road vehicle use

The Bureau of Land Management currently allows dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles on more than 90 percent of the land under its jurisdiction. As a result, off-road vehicle use has increased exponentially, gouging new routes through forests, valleys, and hillsides; punching through fragile deserts and grasslands; and polluting lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Although vehicle use off of designated roads is prohibited in most NLCS units, the BLM has yet to designate roads in most areas or enforce the prohibition of cross-country vehicle travel.

Boundary adjustments

Several National Monuments have been the victim of a variety of legislative and other efforts to drastically shrink established boundaries. Public support for these monuments and their existing boundaries is critical to protecting the integrity of these units and their resources.

Lack of funding

Three years since its designation, funding for the National Landscape Conservation System still doesn't keep pace with the System's needs. Less than $40 million was allocated to the entire NLCS in 2003-2004. That amounts to about $1.50 an acre-an inadequate amount to tackle invasive species, increasing visitor use, illegal off road vehicle traffic, and vandalism of cultural and historic sites.

For example, at many monuments, NCAs, and wilderness areas, just one or two rangers attempt to patrol hundreds of thousands--or even millions--of acres. More staff to provide visitor education, safety information, guard against vandalism and be an on-the-ground field presence is a growing need that BLM can't meet.

Another evident need is funds with which to acquire inholdings - critical parcels of land that would ensure healthy, intact, ecosystems in the System and buffer wild lands from development and sprawl. Another shortfall across the system is funds for resource inventories and sound, informed resource management planning. For example, less than five percent of the Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monument has been inventoried, leaving the BLM with only a rudimentary understanding of the petrified forests, dinosaur bones, and other artifacts the Monument harbors-even as it tries to protect them.

National Landscape Conservation System. Click to enlarge.
Map of the National Landscape Conservation System
(click to enlarge)

The mission of the National Landscape Conservation System is to conserve, protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations.

- Bureau of Land Management, 2000