The goal of our Healthy Habitats program is to identify, protect and restore functioning and resilient habitats, reinforced by our work to advocate for Connected Landscapes.

One of the most timely ways to identify and protect healthy habitat areas is to engage with the Bureau of Land Management to identify Lands with Wilderness Characteristics and to advocate for the protection of those areas.

Nevada's first National Conservation Area, Red Rock Canyon. Part of the Bureau of Land Management's National Conservation Lands. (Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management)

Nevada’s first National Conservation Area, Red Rock Canyon. Part of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands. (Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the United States Government agency that manages over 245 million acres of public land, mostly located in the 12 Western states, including Alaska (8.3 million acres in Colorado).  Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWCs) are large natural areas that offer solitude for wildlife and people alike. BLM’s current guidance for LWCs requires the agency to inventory these lands and to consider protecting them for their inherent ecological and recreation values.

Rocky Mountain Wild and LWCs

Rocky Mountain Wild supports a coalition of groups across our region and beyond to identify and advocate for the protection of Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWCs).  Along with Rocky Mountain Wild, this coalition includes Conservation Colorado, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Wild ConnectionsThe Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Workshop. Our Geographic Information Systems (GIS)/Mapping team provides back room assistance to these conservation organizations when they perform field work mapping these areas. We also work with these organizations to advocate for the protection of these areas with BLM and the general public.

Some of the tasks Rocky Mountain Wild performs are:

  1. Roadless Analysis:  We perform a GIS analysis to identify roadless lands that may qualify as Lands with Wilderness Characteristics.  See our Instructions on performing Roadless Area analysis for a high level description of how to identify roadless areas (assumes knowledge of esri’s ArcGIS software).
  2. Data Preparation: We convert data to Google Earth (kmz) and GPS (gpx) format to support prioritization and mapping of potential LWCs. See our Instructions on how to convert GIS Shapefiles to GPS Format for a high level description of how to convert GIS data to a format that can be loaded into GPS devices and apps (assumes knowledge of esri’s ArcGIS software).
  3. Boundary Definition and Maps: Field mappers share data in Google Earth (kmz) format with us to create detailed boundaries of  LWCs after their on-the-ground inventories.
  4. Supplemental Values: LWCs are required to be of a certain size (typically 5,000 acres or more) and have characteristics of naturalness and opportunities for solitude.  In addition the areas may “contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.”  Rocky Mountain Wild’s Assessment of Biological Impact (ABI) tool provides helpful input for identifying and describing those values when advocating for the BLM to recognize areas as LWCs and to protect those areas.

Conference Presentation on LWCs

This article originally appeared on Rocky Mountain Wild. It has been reprinted here with permission.

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