Rethinking Conservation - Page 2
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Many of the current NLCS units were already federally protected when it was formed in 2000. So why did they need to be reorganized into the new system?
A uniform national identity, or possibly even "brand," is essential in raising awareness of these special places and protecting them. Think about it. Why didn't we choose to call Yellowstone National Park the "Yellowstone Geological and Geothermal Anomaly Area?" The term national park imbues it with significance and value that is larger than the particular area conserved.

The National Parks Service has had a unified "branding" system since 1906, but the BLM didn't have a national system to raise awareness of its special lands until 2000. So, putting special places that already had a designation together in a national system is a practical means of raising awareness of them. It also makes these places easier to manage. The BLM oversees massive amounts of land spread throughout the country, a difficult task without some kind of unifying organizational structure.

What's your pick for the best hike in the Conservation System?
In southeastern Oregon, there is a massive fault-block mountain called Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. Its 10,000-foot summit towers above the Alvord Desert and hosts wildflowers, elk, mountain lions, and some incredible hiking trails. Near the summit there's a four-mile loop that begins by traversing an extremely narrow ridge and then dropping into a steep glacial gorge. The trail ends with a long rock scramble that leads to a fantastic alpine meadow filled with wildflowers and a beautiful spring-fed lake called Wildhorse Lake. It's a beautiful, challenging hike that offers complete solitude. It's my favorite.

How do you balance promoting recreation in these areas while protecting them from overuse?
This is the question that keeps me awake at night. But really it's not as paradoxical as it seems. My philosophy is that a certain level of use is vital to the act of conserving these places. I'm reminded of an aphorism, "enjoyment breeds awareness, awareness breeds reverence, and reverence brings action." It's worth noting that the activity I encourage—hiking—is one of the lowest-impact ways to enjoy these places. But of course it is not "no impact." So, we partner with Leave No Trace to educate hikers and other recreation enthusiasts in the seven principles for responsible outdoor recreation.

What are the biggest threats facing the NLCS lands?
Getting rangers to remote areas, meeting our nation's demand for energy in a responsible way, and managing the growing number of off-road-vehicle enthusiasts are some of the biggest problems. But they all stem from one central problem: lack of resources. Even though the BLM manages more land than the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service combined, it receives less funding per acre than any of those agencies.

This President's 2008 budget includes the lowest funding level ever for the BLM's Conservation System—less than $2 per acre. All the land-management agencies are feeling the crunch of a tight budget, but the main concern is that this budget will impair the BLM's ability to take advantage of cost-saving measures. For example, the BLM sometimes has to turn away volunteers because it doesn't have sufficient staff to supervise them. Anther example is the shortage of law enforcement on Conservation System lands. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, nearly 1.6 million acres in size, has the equivalent of two law enforcement officers for the entire monument. That's like having two police officers in charge of an area nearly twice the size of Rhode Island.

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