Entire National Landscape Conservation System in Jeopardy

WASHINGTON, DC, June 7, 2005 (ENS) - Just one of the 11 places listed as endangered this year by the National Trust for Historic Preservation covers 26 million acres in 12 western states. The National Landscape Conservation System, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is threatened in part by theft and vandalism and by the agency's chronic understaffing and underfunding, the Trust warns.

The National Landscape Conservation System takes in national monuments, national scenic and historic trails, wild and scenic rivers, wilderness study areas, cooperative management and protection areas, forest reserves, national conservation areas, national recreation areas, and outstanding natural areas.

These types of lands and waters are designated by federal government processes, but once designation is attached, the Trust and other conservationists say they are neglected for lack of funds and staff.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation issued its 2005 Most Endangered List on Thursday to draw attention to the need to give better care to these precious places.

“This collection of treasures represents the best of the sites managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management, but the care it has been getting is anything but the best,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust.

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Richard Moe, is president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Photo courtesy NTHP)
“Without adequate staffing and funding, BLM simply can’t do its job - and irreplaceable pieces of our heritage will continue to be lost to looting, vandalism and the ravages of time and weather,” said Moe.

“The National Landscape Conservation System was created five years ago to protect some of America’s most extraordinary lands, rivers, and cultural sites,” said William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society.

“These places provide some of the last opportunities to experience the historic landscape of the American West. Inclusion on the 11 Most Endangered list is a wake-up call. We need to act now to protect this vital piece of our American heritage.”

The Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Idaho is one of the resources, the Wilderness Society warns is in greatest need of protection.

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Snake River, Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (Photo courtesy BLM Lower Snake River District)
Located 35 miles south of Boise, Idaho, the Snake River Birds of Prey area was designated by Congress in 1993. The 484,873 acre area is inhabited by the largest concentration of nesting raptors in North America - bald and golden eagles, and peregrine falcons. But the raptors and their habitat are threatened.

"At Snake River Birds of Prey rampant wildfires have destroyed habitat for the species that raptors depend on," says Lahsha Johnston, of The Wilderness Society’s Idaho Office.BLM needs more funding to preserve and restore this critical territory.”

Johnston says the problems at the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area affect many other wild landscapes within the National Landscape Conservation System.

"Archaeologists have inventoried only a fraction of the entire system to document its cultural resources," she says. "We need to make sure BLM gets the mandate and the resources to preserve these extraordinary places for our children and grandchildren.”

Some of these resources date from several thousand years ago, such as Lowry Pueblo in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. There are 10 national historic trails from the 16th to 20th century eras of exploration and migration such as the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Trail in New Mexico, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, and the Oregon Trail.

Moe says the National Landscape Conservation System’s (NLCS) cultural and historic resources are in jeopardy. Its resources and landscapes show damage from vandalism, looting, illegal off-road vehicle use, mismanaged grazing and development.

Some of America's most treasured places are at risk, the Wilderness Society points out, such as the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. Called the strangest 75 square miles on the North American continent by some of its original explorers, this moonscape is evidence of how lava cut deep chasms into the Earth over 2,000 years ago.

Carrizo Plains National Monument in California, bisected by the San Andreas Fault zone, is inhabited by the largest concentration of endangered wildlife in California. Thirteen plant and animal species living on the monument lands have been listed as endangered by the state or federal governments, including the California condor and the Joaquin kit fox.

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An ancient structure contained within the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (Photo courtesy San Juan Citizens Alliance)
Threatened and irreplaceable is the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado. This 164,000 acre area includes the densest concentration of Anasazi Indian sites in America, with more than 6,000 sites recorded to date. It is endangered by cultural resource vandalism, oil and gas exploration, and development.

The San Juan Citizens Alliance, which is attempting to protect the Canyons of the Ancients says off-road vehicles are damaging the area. "Without a sound transportation system or monitoring program in place, off-road vehicles have free reign in the Monument. New trails are created while cultural resources and riparian areas suffer."

A planning process is now underway that will determine how to protect objects of scientific and historic interest identified in the Proclamation on June 9, 2000 by President Bill Clinton that designated this monument, and how historic uses will be managed. Find out more at: www.sanjuancitizens.org, which contains a link to the BLM planning process.

Parts of the BLM website are currently down, the agency says, "while we make modifications that will enhance security of our web site." However, the BLM listing of resources within the National Landscape Conservation System is up at: http://www.blm.gov/nlcs/monuments/index.html

Protection for these designated areas comes down to financial support for their upkeep. To raise public awareness of the need for greater funding for the BLM, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed public service announcements that feature the 2005 11 Most Endangered Historic Places on the History Channel this summer. The National Landscape Conservation System is considered just one of those 11 endangered places.