This story first appeared in E&ENews PM.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave the National Landscape Conservation System a boost this week, elevating its status within the Interior Department and setting conservation as a top priority for the vast federal lands.
In a secretarial order issued Monday, Salazar granted the office that oversees the relatively new system the level of "directorate" within the Bureau of Land Management. He also called for the agency to manage the lands "to protect the values for which they were designated" and specified that science should be involved in all management decisions.
The NLCS is a collage of more than 27 million acres of wilderness, conservation areas, rivers and monuments managed and protected by BLM. It was established administratively by President Clinton nearly a decade ago and put into law in March when President Obama signed the public lands omnibus bill.
The system is intended to protect open spaces in the West that "are a unique part of America's heritage," according to the agency.
BLM manages the system for multiple uses, but the order gives more direction to its management. The agency can allow grazing, energy development and tourism, but the order specifies that biodiversity and "ecological connectivity" are supposed to be tantamount. The lands are also supposed to help create "resilience in the face of climate change," according to the order.
Conservation groups, including the Wilderness Society and Conservation Lands Foundation, praised the "landmark order."
"Through this order, Secretary Salazar has advanced our nation's conservation heritage, and given the national conservation lands the direction and priority they deserve," said Brian O'Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation.
But the system has not been without controversy. Republicans have been highly critical of the system. And a report from the Interior inspector general last year found that NLCS managers had a too-cozy relationship with environmental groups (Greenwire, Oct. 5, 2009).
The investigation found that numerous activities and communications took place between NLCS officials and advocacy groups, including discussions about the NLCS budget and the editing of brochures and production of fact sheets by BLM employees for the National Wildlife Federation.
Click here to read the secretarial order.