Designated Areas

John Muir Wilderness from Wilderness.org

Types of designated areas vary vastly, however, the recognition of these lands is created through common processes for similar purposes. Federally, the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands, also known as the National Landscape Conservation System, includes over 870 recognized areas spanning approximately 30 million acres of public lands. These natural areas are managed to ensure their conservation, and, if needed, restoration, for the long-term benefit of surrounding communities and the American people at large. Congressional designations within the conservation system include National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Forest Reserves (also known as National Forests), Cooperative Management and Protection Areas, National Scenic and Historic Trails, Wilderness, and Wilderness Study Areas. Administrative designations include Outstanding Natural Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern – which include specific sub-types of research natural areas and outstanding areas), and BLM Scenic or Back Country Byways, which encompass national recreation trails, wildlife viewing sites, and wild horse and burro ranges. National Forests are managed by the US Forest Service, and National Parks are managed by the National Park Service. Learn more about management on designated lands.

Characteristics of Designated Lands and Challenges Posed by Climate Change

As landscapes that represent some of America’s most pristine, wild, and outstanding open spaces, designated areas face a myriad of management challenges.  Some areas see year-long tourism, and experience increased air pollution, invasive species pressures, and edge effects as a result of such interest and acclaim.  Other areas are remote and roadless. Nonetheless, climate change is impacting and could continue to effect these areas in a variety of ways.  As glaciers melt, alpine habitats transition, and wildfires become more frequent and severe, some of our national designated areas may lose their signature treasures.  For example, the National Park Service reports Glacier National Park could become without glaciers by the mid-21rst century, while Joshua, Saguaro, and Giant Sequoia trees are all threatened in the parks that bear their names.

NPS_Glacier
West Glacier (on left in 1913, NPS) in Glacier National Park has melted away (on right in 2005, USGS). The other glaciers in the park are facing the same threat and may disappear within the next 30 years.

The impacts of climate change are likely to exacerbate current management challenges. The Department of the Interior’s 2014 Climate Adaptation Plan acknowledges increased temperature and evaporation may lead to wildland fires, longer fire seasons, earlier spring melt of snowpack, loss of glaciers, melting permafrost, and changing ranges for invasive species. Increased air and water temperatures may be stressors for some species and cultural practices, and can damage or destroy cultural resources. Changes in precipitation patterns may negatively impact water resources and water quality, as well as alter erosion rates and alter stream flows. Flooding from changing water regimes is likely to impact water infrastructure, including water supplies and hydropower production, and present additional management challenges. To address such risks and vulnerabilities, the Department is working to build resilience into Bureau-managed lands and resources to address the threats climate change poses to its missions and programs. Priority actions identified in the 2014 Plan include investing in research, working with communities to reduce risks, and implementing actions that highlight the benefits of innovative resource management to improve the resilience of our communities and landscapes. This policy may provide opportunities for further partnerships between land management agencies and the non-profit conservation community.

Meanwhile, land trusts and conservation groups across the country continue to work with agencies that manage designated lands to identify opportunities to enhance connectivity of conserved properties and support management for multiple benefits. For example, The Conservation Fund (TCF) has partnered with USFWS Refuges to purchase, conserve, and restore degraded properties. These lands are managed with goals to create habitat, protect water resources, and provide quantifiable carbon sequestration benefits. Learn more about TCF’s Go Zero program. Additionally, across the country conservation groups such as the Elkhorn Slough Foundation and TNC South Carolina have benefited from additional funding due to the ecological connections between their restoration projects and designated lands. Learn more about how land trusts are partnering with managers of designated lands to further shared stewardship objectives. We are collecting more stories to highlight how land designations can further land trust conservation objectives. Have a story to share? Contact us here.