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Press Release: Arizona's Top Natural Areas Suffering Despite Protections, Report Says

Inadequate funding, staffing, and monitoring cited in first assessment of Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System.

October 26 , 2005

Washington, DC – Inadequate funding and staffing have left the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ill-equipped to manage its premier Western lands, putting nationally significant lands such as Arizona’s newest national monuments at risk. The BLM’s management challenges are detailed in the first comprehensive assessment of its 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), released today by the Wilderness Society and World Resources Institute.

“The National Landscape Conservation System was created to safeguard landscapes that are as spectacular in their own way as our National Parks,” said former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. “There is clear evidence, however, that we are at risk of moving backwards and failing to adequately protect these special American lands. The Department of the Interior and our leaders in Congress should take the recommendations of this report to heart and support the conservation mission of the NLCS before it is too late.”

“Conservation is supposed to be the priority for these places, but despite the presence of talented and committed staff, the report is dominated nationally by grades of C and D,” said Wendy VanAsselt, one of the authors of the report, called State of the National Landscape Conservation System: A First Assessment. “Congress and the Department of the Interior must provide dedicated BLM staff with more funding and a true commitment from the leadership to protect these irreplaceable treasures from vandalism, overgrazing, and off-road vehicle abuse.”

Three of the fifteen monuments and national conservation areas (NCAs) assessed are in Arizona, which contains a total of 3.7 million acres of NLCS lands, including 5 National Monuments, 3 National Conservation Areas, 2 National Historic Trails, and 47 designated Wilderness areas.  Arizona’s three assessed areas are:

Agua Fria National Monument, which received a “C” for visitor management and law enforcement because it has only one ranger and no formal public education or interpretation program for a monument that is suffering from illegal off-road vehicle use.

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, which received a “D” for natural resource monitoring because it lacks the capacity for comprehensive monitoring of ecosystem threats, such as invasive species, and falls short on tracking and public reporting of population trends for rare wildlife and plants.

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, which received a “B” for natural resource monitoring and was highlighted in “best practices” because the 2003 Resource Management Plan provides clear requirements for a comprehensive monitoring program. 

“The report could not assess the BLM’s planning performance because the plans for Arizona’s five new National Monuments have been delayed for close to two years,” said Jill Ozarski of The Wilderness Society. “Ironwood Forest National Monument has been without a permanent manager for over a year.  These NLCS lands have dedicated and talented staff, but the staff simply aren’t given the funding or support they need to keep up with the impacts of increased visitation, damage from off-road vehicle use, and vandalism.  Rather than focusing resources, the Department of the Interior and Congress is treating them as if they were second rate.”

“One of the most critical elements of the soon-to-be-released draft Monument plans will be how the BLM proposes to maintain the remote and wild qualities that inspired designation of the Monuments in the first place,” said Don Hoffman, Executive Director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, a statewide organization working to protect Arizona’s last wild lands and waters. “We urge the BLM to preserve all of the wilderness-quality lands in the Monuments.  These refuges of peace and quiet are not a just a respite from our hectic daily lives, but they also represent a legacy of wild Arizona landscapes that we must leave for future generations.”

“Arizonans value our new national monuments, but sadly the Bush Administration does not,” said Sandy Bahr of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “Arizona’s monuments are natural treasures to cherish and pass on to future generations.  That’s why we are working with local residents and BLM staff on protecting these special places.”

“Arizona's monuments are rich and fragile places, and they need better support," said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, who formerly worked with BLM.

The report includes five overarching recommendations to help BLM better protect the cultural and natural resources of the National Landscape Conservation System:

  • Increased staffing and financial resources dedicated to Conservation System by BLM.
  • A better information base for conservation management, including more, or better-organized, data collection.
  • Completion of overdue management plans and implementation strategies.
  • Immediate closure of harmful roads and routes.
  • Full utilization of volunteers and academic partnerships to inventory, monitor, and protect resources.

Full report is available at:

ContactsJill Ozarski, The Wilderness Society, (303) 650-5818 x111

      For Agua Fria: Jim Vaaler, Friends of Agua Fria, (602) 553-8208

      For Las Cienegas: Jill Ozarski, (303) 650-5818 x111

      For Grand Canyon-Parashant: Kim Crumbo, (928) 638-2304

Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 253-8633

Don Hoffman, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, (928) 339-4525

Daniel Patterson, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 906-2159

-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement