WSA Fact Sheet

Background

As the largest land manager in the nation, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a critical role to play in implementing the America the Beautiful initiative if the administration is going to reach its ambitious conservation goals of protecting more of our nation’s lands and waters. The BLM manages 245 million acres of land largely spread across 12 western states. Protecting these lands in their natural, undeveloped condition is crucial to combating the effects of climate change. Across the West, these lands provide real, quantifiable carbon sequestration and climate adaptation benefits and also serve to conserve scarce water resources. They serve as critical climate refugia for wildlife species and play a vital role in ensuring habitat connectivity across the West. They are in short the heart of the America the Beautiful initiative and their protection should be prioritized by the administration.

The BLM has existing tools and authorities that it must begin using more widely across the West to accelerate the scope and pace of conservation. Guided by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), these policies and regulations enable the agency to better restore, conserve, and protect national public lands. One of the most important tools managed by the BLM under FLPMA are Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs)—and it’s time for the BLM to boldly use these tools to help address the climate and biodiversity crisis.

WSAs are BLM’s most durable and important administrative designation. The designation ensures wilderness character is maintained on identified public lands, protecting the agency’s wildest places, irreplaceable cultural resources, native species, and world class recreation until Congress has a chance to act and decide whether they deserve permanent protection. There are more than 29 million acres of BLM-identified Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWCs) in the lower 48 states that are eligible for WSA designation and millions more acres of community-identified LWCs that should be considered for designation. The BLM defines LWCs as lands that posses sufficient size, naturalness, and outstanding opportunities for either solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation.

To truly address the climate and biodiversity crisis and protect our water resources, the BLM must embrace and use this tool to protect more public lands and help the Biden Administration and Western states achieve their conservation goals.

(Adapted from The Wilderness Society)