Monuments under attack

  The old debate over the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is fascinating (HCN, 4/14/03: Change comes slowly to Escalante country), but you missed the larger story: the emerging threats to the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). This system has the potential to dramatically reshape conservation in the West.

Established to encompass the crown jewels of the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the NLCS consists of more than 40 million acres: national monuments, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, national conservation areas, and national historic and scenic trails.

In addition to its immense historical, cultural, recreational and educational values, the NLCS plays a critical role in preserving the ecology of the Western landscape. It maintains the integrity of complex desert, forest and grassland ecosystems and numerous watersheds.

Sadly, the NLCS was barely created when it came under attack by the Bush administration, which is chipping away at these spectacular areas through quiet administrative changes, inadequate funding for management, and the Interior Department’s recent "no more wilderness" settlement with Utah (HCN, 4/28/03: Wilderness takes a massive hit). This settlement threatens tens of millions of acres of wilderness-character land managed by the BLM.

The National Landscape Conservation System has the potential to rival the park system and deserves a similarly forward-thinking level of protection. Without it, many of the West’s remaining wild places may be lost to poor management, drilling, road building and encroaching suburban pressures. I hope your readers will help us celebrate and protect the national monuments and the National Landscape Conservation System and the true American heritage it includes.

William H. Meadows
President, The Wilderness Society
Washington, D.C.