Pop quiz: What national conservation land is nearest you?
The National Landscape Conservation System -- America's youngest permanently protected collection of public lands -- celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and grassroots organizers and BLM managers are meeting in Nevada to plan for the next 10 years in the "sportsman's park service."
National conservation lands include 27 million acres of national monuments, conservation areas, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, and historic trails in the 11 Western states plus Alaska (and one historic trail in Maryland). Unlike national parks, "National conservation lands tend to be lower elevation, more desert than forest," says Conservation Lands Foundation director Brian O'Donnell. These designations protect cultural resources in the context of the surrounding landscape, so they are big. And they offer "a more self-directed experience," O'Donnell adds. Visitors to conservation lands find dirt trails, wide-open country, and solitude. You'd think us rugged Westerners would be in favor of setting aside unpaved spots free of Yellowstone's bear-jams or the Grand Canyon's helicopter tours -- spots where we can tote our firearms and catch a few fish -- but actually locals have resisted the designations, opposing road removal or grazing restrictions the BLM imposed to protect natural values.
Before the upcoming meetings in Nevada, you might brush up on the controversial history of the National Landscape Conservation System in the HCN archives. Here's a start:
In 2003, Michelle Nijhuis described 15 national monuments included in "the BLM's conservation kingdom" to accompany her story surrounding the difficulty of protecting the largest monument -- Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.
Ray Ring wrote an op-ed for HCN when the National Landscape Conservation System officially received permanent protection under the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act in 2009, and Jodi Peterson led readers on a float through the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area later that year.
As a next step, on November 12 - 14 the Conservation Lands Foundation is hosting a "rendezvous" in Las Vegas, Nev., to help build continuity between grassroots organizations working to protect their local national conservation lands and to make policy recommendations to help the BLM. Then on November 15 and 16 the BLM will hold a summit to plan for the next 10 years.
To learn more about the national conservation lands in your state visit the BLM's web page: http://www.blm.gov/nlcs.html
Or to find an organization in your area that is working to protect national conservation lands, contact the Conservation Lands Foundation by calling 970-247-0807 or writing to email@example.com.
The BLM relies on volunteers to build and restore trails and take care of these lands, so look for opportunities in your area to pitch in. Plus, as always, keep an eye on High Country News for the latest updates about these little-known lands.
Images of California Coastal National Monument and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (by Bob Wick) from the BLM National Landscape Conservation System.
Emilene Ostlind is a High Country News intern