It's refreshing to see the Obama administration take some protective steps on the National Landscape Conservation System lands (HCN, 12/20/10). Unfortunately, telling an agency with a tradition of neglect and exploitation to focus on conservation may be optimistic, especially when federal lands will face hostility and budget cuts from conservatives in the new Congress.
President Clinton and then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt established quite a few new national monuments within the BLM to avoid facing the wrath of anti-federal locals upset about the idea of new national parks. Never mind that parks draw visitors and dollars into local economies. But those national monuments have received little better treatment than generic BLM lands. Off-road vehicle use in particular is out of control, and such abuse is contrary to all other conservation and public use values of public land. Near Moab, Utah, for example, motorized vehicles routinely enter wilderness study areas or designated wilderness in defiance of signs and fences. A whole generation of motorized thrill-seekers has had no education in conservation and has rarely, if ever, met a BLM ranger.
People complain that National Park Service management is expensive compared to the Forest Service and BLM. But the public gets great value from the NPS. Not only does the agency make a serious effort at law enforcement and patrol, its visitor centers and community outreach efforts educate everyone about conservation while giving students and locals opportunities for jobs and volunteerism in the parks. The BLM could follow this model as well, but it will require a big shift in agency culture and reliable budget incentives to make it stick.
Santa Fe, New Mexico