For many Americans, it’s easy to forget that so much of the western United States is actually relatively undeveloped land. Most of this open space is held in trust for the American people by the federal government. In fact, within the 11 western states, almost 47% of land is managed by a collection of federal agencies.
These public lands are a national treasure. They are the reason we still have relatively abundant native wildlife across the West and a plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities to enjoy. They are the reason so many people want to live and work in western communities. And their vistas and landscapes are considered iconic, both in America and across the world.
This Saturday—September 22—is National Public Lands Day. It’s a chance to celebrate and give back to these shared spaces across the country, encouraging volunteerism to address the backlog of maintenance and restoration projects at consistently underfunded and understaffed sites.
But for Wildlands Network, Public Lands Day is about so much more. When celebrating our public lands, we also have the opportunity to take action to shift the public policy that governs these special areas. Our public policy can better address the threats and opportunities presented by shifting ecological and social conditions that the drafters of the original statues and mandates for public land agencies could never have anticipated.
We know now that the regulations and management plans of the governing agencies, like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are not sufficient to guarantee the preservation of wildlife populations, water resources, or ecosystems. That’s why Wildlands Network is working with local communities to advocate for new and detailed guidance for important wildlife habitat in new management plans across the west, even in underappreciated areas on federal lands, like the Wah Wah Mountains and Spring Creek Canyon in Utah, both of which deserve protection and recognition.
We also know now that preserving relatively small areas, like national parks, is not enough to protect native wildlife populations. Instead, as our founders understood, we must manage and plan on regional, national, and even continental scales to preserve movement corridors, ecological processes, and biodiversity. That’s why we’re hoping to add to the storied history of conservation in America’s public lands and beyond with the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act. Taking a minute to contact your elected representative today can make a difference!
Advocating for our public lands isn’t a one day affair. These efforts, just like the Public Lands Day volunteer projects, are just a start. Securing the future of our public lands will take long-term investment in our land and wildlife agencies, shifts in our current laws and practices, and collective action by groups and citizens across the country. Wildlands Network can’t do it alone—we hope you will join us.