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Supporting BLM's National Landscape Conservation System

Striving toward permanence and recognition for Bureau of Land Management's new system

By Seth Levy, American Hiking Society

photo: Barrier for large motorized vehicles
Volunteers working on BLM trails in western Colorado

Created in 2000, the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) National Landscape Conservation System is 26 million acres of the best places to experience the history and wild beauty of the West. It includes National Scenic and Historic Trails, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Monuments, Wilderness Areas, National Conservation Areas and several other specially designated areas.

The BLM's Conservation System safeguards and unifies the best cultural, natural, and recreational resources in the west, providing opportunities to experience pristine landscapes, get fit, diversify local economies and understand the great history of our nation's western migration.

Trails figure prominently in this new System. More than 4,500 miles of National Historic Trails and 600 miles of National Scenic Trails are included in the BLM's Conservation System. Many people are surprised to realize that iconic stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail, like those in Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and familiar stretches of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, like those in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, are part of the Conservation System.

Despite the fact that the BLM manages 13 percent of the surface of America, including many iconic natural, cultural and recreational resources, few people are aware of the quality of the lands and waters it manages. Part of the reason for this lack of awareness is the unfamiliar mission of the BLM. The BLM has a fundamentally different mission than more familiar agencies, like the National Park Service. The BLM manages lands for multiple uses under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

Because of this multiple use mandate, diverse activities exist side by side on lands managed by the BLM. For instance, a responsible ranching operation that spans three generations coexists with a protected riparian area and the planned route of the Arizona Trail in Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in Arizona. In Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, world-class trout fishing and elk hunting exist in close proximity to the Pacific Crest Trail. The Conservation System "fills out" the BLM's spectrum of multiple uses by emphasizing science, conservation and recreation.

Unfortunately, unlike other national systems of public lands, the BLM's Conservation System lacks the official Congressional approval that its incredible resources deserve. Only Congress can permanently protect and recognize the National Landscape Conservation System for the enduring benefit of present and future generations.

This spring, bipartisan leadership in the Senate and House, with support from the Bush administration, have called for permanence for the Conservation System. This legislation comes in the form of two bills, HR 2016 and S 1139, to give the System permanence. To give these trails and natural resources the recognition and stature they deserve, American Hiking Society is working with 60-plus conservation, recreation, historic preservation and sportsmen's groups that comprise the Conservation System Alliance to advocate for the passage of this important legislation.

For more information about protecting the hidden treasures of the west by volunteering, enjoying, or advocating for the Conservation System, visit

To learn more about the National Landscape Conservation System and to read about each National Conservation Area, please visit the BLM Web site:

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