Environmental Issues > Wildlands Main Page > All Wildlands Documents


A guide to the types of protected land that you'll find on the Google Earth map:


Units of the National Park System: Includes national parks, monuments and preserves designated by Congress to permanently conserve resources of national importance.

National Wildlife Refuges: Includes Wildlife Management Areas and Refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to maintain the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the refuge system.

Designated Wilderness Areas: Part of the National Wilderness Preservation System designated by Congress. In general, roads, machines and power tools are prohibited.

Inventoried Roadless Areas: Identified by the U.S. Forest Service to preserve the ecological and social benefits of areas without roads in National Forests. In general, road construction and logging are prohibited.

Wilderness Study Areas: Designated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), they qualify for congressional designation as Wilderness Areas.

National Conservation Areas: Designated by Congress to preserve natural and historic resources, including wildlife habitat, scenery and archaeological sites.

National Monuments: Established by presidents to protect natural and historic resources. Proclamations determine how they must be preserved. Most are managed by the National Park Service, but some are found on BLM and Forest Service lands.

National historic and scenic trails: Designated by Congress and included in the National Trails System. Both must provide for significant outdoor recreation.

National wild, scenic and recreational rivers: Designated by Congress, they possess “outstandingly remarkable values” such as scenery or fish and wildlife.

National recreation areas: Managed by the Forest Service or BLM. Rules for preservation and use may vary.


BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern: Known as ACECs, they preserve areas with important historic, scenic or cultural values, fish and wildlife resources, or natural systems and processes. Designation typically takes place during the BLM's land use planning process and involves public participation.

Designated critical habitats for federally listed endangered and threatened species: Land deemed necessary by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the survival of species that are in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the near future.

Lands precluded from development in Habitat Conservation Plans: Developed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, these conservation plans are designed to reduce or mitigate the loss of federally protected endangered or threatened species. (Please note: NRDC is seeking more data on these lands and will add it as it becomes available.)


Proposed wilderness lands: Areas identified by citizens or federal agencies as suitable for wilderness declaration and awaiting congressional action.

State parks: Protected by state law or other regulation. Commercial exploitation of their resources is typically prohibited.

State Wilderness Areas: Similar to federal wilderness areas but designated by states.

State wildlife areas and ecological reserves: Some states have established areas managed by fish and game departments for wildlife protection. Energy development is typically precluded. (Please note: NRDC is seeking this data for all 13 states and will add it as it becomes available, along with information from wildlife experts and other local and regional sources.)

last revised 5/27/2009

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