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Post-Election Is a Prime Time for Public Lands Planning

Through public engagement and sharing of knowledge, we can make the National Landscape Conservation System a model program for land conservation that promotes economic values and fosters planning for future growth.
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While some in Washington are still trying to catch their breath following the midterm elections, it is heartening to see efforts underway to advance important on-the-ground initiatives during this transition. Some of these efforts include moving toward public lands management that recognizes not only the scenic, scientific and cultural values of these Western lands, but also the role that many of these places play in boosting local economies. Agencies like the Department of Interior, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), will be bringing together stakeholders and decision makers next week in Nevada, to talk about how the National Landscape Conservation System has served our communities and how to manage the system in a way that will provide lasting benefits. This could not come at a better time.

Ten years into the life of the National Landscape Conservation System, composed of lands belonging to ALL Americans, we recognize that there are some sensitive issues involving the growth of our national monuments and national conservation areas that deserve public debate. Western landscapes are in the crossfire, between development and protection.

In places where we have typically seen conflict over conservation proposals there is one clear common denominator -- folks simply want a seat at the table. When we sit down together, we often find that we share a conservation agenda and a conservation ethic. The upcoming BLM summit in Las Vegas will provide another opportunity for stakeholders from across the country to come together to develop a framework that will ensure that our public lands continue to add value to their communities.

This ten-year review should recognize that there is strong support for conservation in the West. Our communities cannot function without healthy ecosystems, and there is a direct relationship between humans and our natural communities. A poll released by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development shows that in rating the importance of the uses of public land in the West, the sportsmen and women polled placed hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation atop their list, with wildlife habitat management coming in a close second, and fish habitat management third. According to the poll, traditional oil and gas extraction are far down the list, below development of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

In Taft, California, for example, the Chamber of Commerce has seen a steady increase in the number of visitors seeking information about the Carrizo Plains National Monument. According to Chamber staff, some days over half the visitors are asking about the national monument, and they are spending money that supports Taft's restaurants, motels, and outfitters. It is important that the BLM take the time to hear these stories and use these positive models to strengthen the National Landscape Conservation System.

As president of The Wilderness Society, I will be leading a panel at the BLM summit aimed at setting the stage for the next ten years and beyond. It includes Luther Propst, executive director of the Sonoran Institute; Bill Dickinson, superintendent of Lake Meade National Park; Adam Cramer of the Outdoor Industry Association; and Liz Archuleta, a county supervisor in Coconino, Arizona. We hope to discuss our experiences in managing public lands, the value brought to local communities, the changing nature of land uses, and why protection of these treasured places must extend beyond unit boundaries. Our conversation will be just one of the many sessions that can guide management of the BLM and the National Landscape Conservation System.

The Wilderness Society recently issued our own assessment of the management of several national monuments and conservation areas in the West and hope the BLM will seriously consider many of our recommendations. Our goal is to ensure that our public lands receive the protection they deserve while helping the BLM reach its objective: "to conserve, protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations."

By achieving these goals, local communities will have the chance to reap numerous benefits from nearby public lands. I am hoping the BLM is as excited to hear from people and their connections to the lands at the summit as I am to share our experiences in working with local stakeholders. As Aldo Leopold once said, "There are two things that interest me, the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land." Through public engagement and sharing of knowledge, we can make the National Landscape Conservation System a model program for land conservation that promotes economic values and fosters planning for future growth. There is no better time than the present to put conservation and the economy first.