Protected areas of the United States

The protected areas of the United States are managed by an array of different federal, state, tribal and local level authorities and receive widely varying levels of protection. Some areas are managed as wilderness, while others are operated with acceptable commercial exploitation. As of 2015, the 25,800 protected areas covered 1,294,476 km2 (499,800 sq mi), or 14 percent of the land area of the United States.[2] This is also one-tenth of the protected land area of the world. The U.S. also had a total of 787 National Marine Protected Areas, covering an additional 1,271,408 km2 (490,893 sq mi), or 12 percent of the total marine area of the United States.[2]

Some areas are managed in concert between levels of government. The Father Marquette National Memorial is an example of a federal park operated by a state park system, while Kal-Haven Trail is an example of a state park operated by county-level government.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
John Muir
John Muir (1838-1914), one of the main inspirations for the U.S. national park system.
"Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation ?" - John Muir.[1]

Federal level protected areas

As of 2007, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, the U.S. had a total of 6,770 terrestrial nationally designated (federal) protected areas. Federal level protected areas are managed by a variety of agencies, most of which are a part of the National Park Service, a bureau of the United States Department of the Interior. They are often considered the crown jewels of the protected areas. Other areas are managed by the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The United States Army Corps of Engineers is claimed to provide 30 percent of the recreational opportunities on federal lands, mainly through lakes and waterways that they manage.

The highest levels of protection, as described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are Level I (Strict Nature Reserves & Wilderness Areas) and Level II (National Parks). The United States maintains 12 percent of the Level I and II lands in the world. These lands had a total area of 210,000 sq mi (540,000 km2).

A confusing system for naming protected areas results in some types being used by more than one agency. For instance, both the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service operate areas designated National Preserves and National Recreation Areas. The National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management operate areas called National Monuments. National Wilderness Areas are designated within other protected areas, managed by various agencies and sometimes wilderness areas span areas managed by multiple agencies.

There are existing federal designations of historic or landmark status that may support preservation via tax incentives, but that do not necessarily convey any protection, including a listing on the National Register of Historic Places or a designation as a National Historic Landmark. States and local zoning bodies may or may not choose to protect these. The state of Colorado, for example, is very clear that it does not set any limits on owners of NRHP properties.[3]

Federal protected area designations[1]

International protected area designations

State level protected areas

Every state has a system of state parks. State parks vary widely from urban parks to very large parks that are on a par with national parks. Some state parks, like Adirondack Park, are similar to the national parks of England and Wales, with numerous towns inside the borders of the park. About half the area of the park, some 3,000,000 acres (1,200,000 ha), is state-owned and preserved as "forever wild" by the Forest Preserve of New York. Wood-Tikchik State Park in Alaska is the largest state park by the amount of contiguous protected land; it is larger than many U.S. National Parks, with some 1,600,000 acres (650,000 ha), making it larger than the state of Delaware. Many states also operate game and recreation areas.

Local level protected areas

Various counties, cities, metropolitan authorities, regional parks, townships, soil conservation districts and other units manage a variety of local level parks. Some of these are little more than picnic areas or playgrounds; however, others are extensive nature reserves. South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona, for example, is called the largest city park in the United States; it spans 25 sq mi (65 km2) and contains 58 mi (93 km) of trails.

List of protected areas by region


  1. ^ a b Carley, Rachel (2001). Wilderness A To Z. An Essential Guide to the Great Outdoors. New York - London - Toronto - Sydney - Singapore: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0057-8.
  2. ^ a b "United States of America, North America". UNEP. World Database on Protected Areas. 2015-05-02. Retrieved 2015-05-02.
  3. ^ "National & State Register Program". OAHP. Colorado Historical Society. 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-13.

External links

List of Alaska state forests

The U.S. state of Alaska has three state forests, which are managed by the Division of Forestry of the Department of Natural Resources.

List of National Wild and Scenic Rivers

This is a list of the designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers in the United States. Some rivers may be listed more than once if they have designated sections in different states.

Initials of the managing agency follow the name of the river. Abbreviations used are:

USACE = U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

BLM = Bureau of Land Management

NPS = National Park Service

USFS = U.S. Forest Service

USFWS = U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

List of U.S. state and tribal wilderness areas

List of wilderness areas designated by U.S. state and tribal governments. Eight states had designated wilderness programs in 2002 while some other states had designated wildernesses. In 2002, the 9 state programs had 74 wilderness areas with a total protected area of 2,668,903 acres (10,800.7 km²). Florida had had 10 wilderness areas but their authorizing legislation was repealed in 1989.

For federally designated wildernesses, see List of U.S. wilderness areas. There are also privately owned areas called wildernesses like the Nature Conservancy's 12,000 acre (49 km²) Disney Wilderness Preserve in Florida.

List of nature centers in the United States

The following is a list of nature centers and environmental education centers in the United States.

National Conservation Area

National Conservation Area is a designation for certain protected areas in the United States. They are nature conservation areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the National Landscape Conservation System.

Restrictions vary between these conservation areas, but generally they are not leased or sold under mining laws and motorized vehicle use is restricted, unlike many other BLM areas.

National Conservation Lands

National Conservation Lands, formally known as the National Landscape Conservation System, is a 35-million-acre (140,000 km2) collection of lands in 873 federally recognized areas considered to be the crown jewels of the American West. These lands represent 10% of the 258 million acres (1,040,000 km2) managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM is the largest federal public land manager and is responsible for over 40% of all the federal public land in the nation. The other major federal public land managers include the US Forest Service (USFS), National Park Service (NPS), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Over the years, the Bureau of Land Management has had to adjust its approach to public land management to fit the changing needs of the nation. The BLM historically has managed lands under its jurisdiction for extractive uses, such as mining, logging, grazing, and oil and gas production. In 1983, Congress acknowledged the value of watersheds, wildlife habitat, recreation, scenery, scientific exploration and other non-extractive uses with the designation of the first BLM-managed wilderness area—the Bear Trap Canyon unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in Montana. In 1996, President Clinton underscored non-extractive priorities on BLM lands when he established the first national monument to be administered by the BLM—the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. With this and several similar designations, a new focus emerged that would become part of how the agency looks at the land it manages: the protection of special areas where conservation and restoration of the landscape and its biological or cultural resources is the overriding objective.

The Bureau of Land Management's National Landscape Conservation System, better known as the National Conservation Lands, was created in 2000 with the mission 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."There are ten different federal conservation designations for the units that make up the National Conservation Lands:

National Monument

National Conservation Area

Wilderness Area

Wilderness Study Area

National Wild and Scenic River

National Scenic Trail

National Historic Trail

Cooperative Management and Protection Area

Forest Reserve

Outstanding Natural AreaThe Conservation System was created in 2000, but without Congressional authorization, there was no guarantee that the System would be permanent. The National Landscape Conservation System Act was signed into law in March 2009. The Act permanently unified the individual units as a public lands System, protecting the System in law so that it would no longer exist at the pleasure of each president. This marked the first new congressionally authorized public lands system in decades.

The Conservation System act was included in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which also added 1,200,000 acres (490,000 ha) of new designations to the System, including a National Monument, three National Conservation Areas, Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Scenic Trails.

National Estuarine Research Reserve

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 29 protected areas established by partnerships between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and coastal states. The reserves represent different biogeographic regions of the United States. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System protects more than 1.3 million acres of coastal and estuarine habitats for long-term research, water-quality monitoring, education, and coastal stewardship.

National Natural Landmark

The National Natural Landmarks (NNL) Program recognizes and encourages the conservation of outstanding examples of the natural history of the United States. It is the only national natural areas program that identifies and recognizes the best examples of biological and geological features in both public and private ownership. The program was established on May 18, 1962, by United States Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.

The program aims to encourage and support voluntary preservation of sites that illustrate the geological and ecological history of the United States. It also hopes to strengthen the public's appreciation of the country's natural heritage. As of November 2016, 599 sites have been added to the National Registry of National Landmarks. The registry includes nationally significant geological and ecological features in 48 states, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The National Park Service administers the NNL Program and if requested, assists NNL owners and managers with the conservation of these important sites. Land acquisition by the federal government is not a goal of this program. National Natural Landmarks are nationally significant sites owned by a variety of land stewards, and their participation in this federal program is voluntary.

The legislative authority for the National Natural Landmarks Program stems from the Historic Sites Act of August 21, 1935 (49 Stat. 666, 16 U.S.C. 641); the program is governed by federal regulations. The NNL Program does not have the protection features of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Thus, designation of a National Natural Landmark presently constitutes only an agreement with the owner to preserve, insofar as possible, the significant natural values of the site or area. Administration and preservation of National Natural Landmarks is solely the owner's responsibility. Either party may terminate the agreement after they notify the other.

National Parkway

A National Parkway is a designation for a protected area in the United States. The designation is given to a scenic roadway and a protected corridor of surrounding parkland. National Parkways often connect cultural or historic sites. The U.S. National Park Service manages the parkways.

National Recreation Area

A National Recreation Area (NRA) is a designation for a protected area in the United States.

National Wildlife Refuge

National Wildlife Refuge System is a designation for certain protected areas of the United States managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is the system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America's fish, wildlife, and plants. Since President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, the system has grown to over 562 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts encompassing more than 150,000,000 acres (607,028 km2).

National monument (United States)

In the United States, a national monument is a protected area that is similar to a national park, but can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government by proclamation of the President of the United States.

National monuments can be managed by one of several federal agencies: the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (in the case of marine national monuments). Historically, some national monuments were managed by the War Department.National monuments can be so designated through the power of the Antiquities Act of 1906. President Theodore Roosevelt used the act to declare Devils Tower in Wyoming as the first U.S. national monument.

National preserve

A national preserve is a type of National Park Service protected area of the United States designated by Congress that has characteristics normally associated with national parks but where certain natural resource-extractive activities such as fishing, hunting, mining, and oil/gas exploration and extraction are permitted. The types of activities permitted in each national preserve varies depending on the enabling legislation of the unit. Restrictions on hunting, fishing, and trapping may be enacted by the Secretary of the Interior with the consultation of the state agency responsible for overseeing said activities, often the state's department of natural resources, unless it is an emergency.A national preserve differs from a national reserve as management of reserves can be delegated to the state in which they reside.The first national preserve in the U.S. was Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, followed soon after by Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, both established in 1974.National preserves in Alaska were created by a provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, allowing only regulated hunting, fishing and trapping for sport and subsistence purposes.

Protected areas of American Samoa

This is a list of protected areas of American Samoa.

United States National Forest

National Forest is a classification of protected and managed federal lands in the United States. National Forests are largely forest and woodland areas owned collectively by the American people through the federal government, and managed by the United States Forest Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture.

United States National Grassland

National Grassland is a classification of protected and managed federal lands in the United States authorized by Title III of the Bankhead–Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937. For administrative purposes, they are essentially identical to United States National Forests, except that grasslands are areas primarily consisting of prairie. Like National Forests, National Grasslands may be open for hunting, grazing, mineral extraction, recreation and other uses. Various National Grasslands are typically administered in conjunction with nearby National Forests.

All but three National Grasslands are on or at the edge of the Great Plains. Those three are in southeastern Idaho, northeastern California, and central Oregon. The three National Grasslands in North Dakota, together with one in northwestern South Dakota, are administered jointly as the Dakota Prairie Grasslands. National Grasslands are generally much smaller than National Forests. Whereas a typical National Forest would be about 1,000,000 acres (400,000 ha), the average Grassland size is 191,914 acres (77,665 ha). The largest National Grassland, the Little Missouri National Grassland in North Dakota, covers 1,028,784 acres (416,334 ha), which is approximately the median size of a National Forest. As of September 30, 2007, the total area of all 20 National Grasslands was 3,838,280 acres (1,553,300 ha).

United States National Marine Sanctuary

A U.S. National Marine Sanctuary is a zone within United States waters, where the marine environment enjoys special protection. The program began in 1972 in response to public concern about the plight of marine ecosystems.

Wilderness study area

A wilderness study area (WSA) contains undeveloped United States federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, and managed to preserve its natural conditions. WSAs are not included in the National Wilderness Preservation System until the United States Congress passes wilderness legislation.

On Bureau of Land Management lands, a WSA is a roadless area that has been inventoried (but not designated by Congress) and found to have wilderness characteristics as described in Section 603 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 and Section 2(c) of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Wilderness Study Area characteristics:

Size – roadless areas of at least 5,000 acres (20 km2) of public lands or of a manageable size;

Naturalness – generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature rather than human activity;

Opportunities – provides outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined types of recreation.BLM manages wilderness study areas under the National Landscape Conservation System to protect their value as wilderness until Congress decides whether to designate them as wilderness. Wilderness bills often include so-called "release language" that eliminates WSAs not selected for wilderness designation.

Some WSAs are managed in exactly the same manner as wilderness areas, and the rules for others permit activities that are generally excluded from wildernesses. For example, some WSAs allow mountain bikes and off-road vehicles.

There are 545 BLM wilderness study areas with a total area of 12,790,291 acres (51,760.47 km2).

Wildlife Management Area

A Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) is a protected area set aside for the conservation of wildlife and for recreational activities involving wildlife.

Federal protected areas in the United States

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