Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday made conservation a priority in the Bureau of Land Management, signing an order intended to boost protection of 27 million acres of land in the West.
At a meeting in Las Vegas, Salazar singled out the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System, which oversees the agency’s national monuments, conservation lands and wildlife areas.
Salazar’s order makes conservation a greater priority on the system’s lands, which include Southern Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon and Sloan Canyon. His order also increases the prominence of the system, which was created a decade ago under the Clinton administration, elevating it within the BLM’s hierarchy.
Salazar said the land in the conservation system “holds special meaning to the American people.” It does, and it should be used wisely.
These lands not only offer beautiful vistas, but they also are areas of historical and geological importance. For example, the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada includes the wagon ruts from pioneers who crossed the West more than 100 years ago. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah features significant dinosaur finds. Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona contains more than 400 archeological sites that cover more than 2,000 years of human history.
Although conservation is the focus of the lands, which make up a tenth of the BLM’s holdings, they aren’t off-limits. The BLM allows multiple uses that are practical, including cattle grazing, alternative energy development and oil and gas exploration on some of the land. Above all, the BLM encourages visitors. Recreational opportunities include hiking, hunting and fishing.
Salazar said the BLM’s support of multiple uses of the land, including recreation and tourism, “allows us to successfully conserve these treasured landscapes while maintaining a variety of economically productive uses.”
Salazar said 9 million people a year visit the conservation lands, and with the money spent on equipment, guides and supplies, he said the lands have become “an engine for jobs and economic growth in local communities.”
There are critics, and they like to grouse about restrictions on land use, noting the federal government is the largest landowner in the state. But the BLM conservation program provides balance between uses and operates in collaboration with the public.
Salazar noted “tremendous public support” for conservation lands and an “active army” of volunteers and groups involved. For example, in Southern Nevada, groups play key roles championing and supporting Red Rock and Sloan canyons. Friends of Gold Butte, for example, has been working for several years to conserve BLM land south of Mesquite, advocating the area’s inclusion into the conservation system.
Hopefully, the program will continue to be supported and expand in the future. This is the way public lands are supposed to be managed — with the public.
CORRECTION: This editorial initially said the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was in Colorado, but it was changed to Utah. | (November 18, 2010)