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Western ‘Crown Jewel’ Public Lands Threatened
New Report Urges More Federal Funding for Protection
TUCSON, Arizona (July 9, 2009) Many of the West’s most wild and scenic public lands are threatened and being rapidly degraded by a combination of growth and development, vandalism, poor staffing and lack of oversight. A new Sonoran Institute report, Western Landscapes in the Crossfire, Urban Growth and the National Landscape Conservation System, concludes that increased federal funding is required in order to properly protect these vital and highly used public lands.
The report focuses on specific lands within the National Landscape Conservation System which encompasses about 27 million acres in 11 western states with more than 800 protected areas designated as national monuments, national conservation areas, wild and scenic rivers, wilderness areas and national trails. Managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Conservation System achieved new stature this year with formal protections provided by the Omnibus Land Management Act of 2009. President Barack Obama signed this landmark legislation into law on March 30.
“The Conservation System took a major step forward this year when Congress and the President recognized its importance as the first major new land conservation system in nearly 50 years,” said John Shepard, senior advisor for the Sonoran Institute. “The great promise of the Conservation System, however, remains unfulfilled. Despite increased visitation and public enthusiasm for protecting these ‘crown jewel’ lands, most are underfunded and understaffed, making them highly vulnerable to vandalism, illegal off-highway driving and resource destruction.”
The report indicates that there is only one BLM ranger assigned for every 200,000 acres of land, and that total funding in 2007 for all Conservation System units amounted to only $2 per acre. “When you consider that almost 22 million people in the West live within 25 miles of BLM lands today,” said Shepard, “it underscores how woefully inadequate current staffing and funding plans are to truly protect these amazing landscapes and culturally rich areas.”
The Sonoran Institute report focuses on eight Conservation System units in Arizona and Nevada, including Arizona’s Agua Fria, Sonoran Desert, Ironwood Forest and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monuments, and the Las Cienegas, San Pedro Riparian, Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon National Conservation Areas.
“The Conservation System is home to some of the most archeological and culturally significant areas in the West, and includes vast wild and scenic landscapes that truly define this part of the country,” said Sarah Bates, a co-author of the report. “If we are unable to dramatically increase federal funding to protect these lands and their historical significance, it is possible that their unique cultural, ecological and scientific values may disappear altogether in our lifetime.”
The Western Landscapes in the Crossfire report can be found on the Sonoran Institute’s website at www.sonoraninstitute.org.
The nonprofit Sonoran Institute inspires and enables community decisions and public policies that respect the land and people of western North America. Since 1990, the Institute has been shaping the future of the West by helping communities conserve and restore natural and cultural assets and manage growth and change through collaboration, civil dialogue, sound information and big-picture thinking.