Preserving lands from development and other human influences is an integral part of wildlife conservation, and land managers play an important role in this endeavor.
Conservation land managers often work for conservation organizations like land trusts or for governments in order to protect land from human impacts and development. They work to obtain land through conservation easements or donations, and are often involved in policy issues .
Properly managed and protected land ensures that we have clean air, clean water, and recreational spaces long into the future. Land managers have many different roles in ensuring these goals are achieved, and this article will provide a comprehensive overview of the scope of issues land managers are involved in, as well as the different land management agencies and organizations they may work for. We’ll focus on conservation land managers in the US, but their roles overlap with land managers internationally.
In this article, I’ll use my experience working in conservation and studying environmental policy to give you a comprehensive understanding of how land managers must not only work to fulfill conservation goals, but also work within the scope of environmental law.
What Is Land Conservation?
Land conservation involves protecting land from human development and impacts that harm its ability to support life. Land conservation is similar to wildlife conservation, but it focuses particularly on the conservation of habitat and lands rather than individual species living within it.
Efforts to conserve land focus either on preserving land in its most natural state or restoring land that has been degraded or otherwise negatively impacted by human activities. Land conservation efforts often include preventing these human impacts or developments, but also sometimes involve restoring or converting land back into natural habitats.
Land conservation is a multidisciplinary endeavor, as it involves science, policy, and economic interests and strategies. Geographic and biological research often inform decisions, and policy and economic considerations influence how land can be used and developed.
Who Do Conservation Land Managers Work For?
Conservation land trusts are nonprofit organizations that acquire land in order to protect it from development and for conservation purposes. They do a significant amount of work with the conservation of private land, or land that isn’t owned by any government. Land trusts often work in a specific region or community, like the Hawai’i Land Trust, which works to conserve land in the Hawaiian Islands. Other land trusts operate more nationally or globally, like the North American Land Trust or the World Land Trust.
Land trusts not only work to obtain lands and conservation easements (see below), but they also maintain lands, run conservation programs and do education work. In addition, they can be involved in land restoration and other wildlife conservation efforts.
Conservation land managers involved in land trusts help to obtain lands that land trusts are looking to preserve. This involves working with landowners and governments in order to figure out how best to obtain and protect certain areas. Government agencies with goals aligning with land trusts often depend on land managers to help obtain land for conservation purposes, as land trusts can often move quicker than governments. A large part of a land manager’s job is not only working with government organizations for the common goal of conservation, but also ensuring that land acquisition and agreements like conservation easements stay within the law.
Conservation land trust organizations often acquire land through something called a conservation easement, which is an agreement signed with a private property owner. The owner signs the rights to developing their land over to the land trust, who holds it in perpetuity.
This means that the land cannot be developed in certain ways, no matter if the land changes owners or is passed on to an heir. Conservation easements are generally designed in order to specifically protect the land for conservation purposes, while allowing the owner to still use the land in the way they need to. For example, an easement may still allow an owner to grow crops, but will prohibit building certain structures or selling the land to a property developer.
Land managers who work for land trusts are involved in the process of obtaining conservation easements and ensuring that the sufficient requirements are met.
US Government Agencies
There are multiple government agencies that employ land managers to pursue their conservation missions. Below are the four US agencies most involved in land management and an overview of their purpose.
Bureau of Land Management
Government agencies with conservation goals like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employ land managers to maintain the 245 million acres of land it oversees. The BLM operates within the US Department of the Interior (DOI), and oversees recreation areas, monitors lands for public safety issues like wildfires, protects historical artifacts and areas of significance, and conserves wildlife habitats. The BLM is focused largely on the Western states and also has important roles in energy production, since it manages lands that are used for oil, gas and mineral extraction.
US Fish and Wildlife Service
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) administers the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), which protects millions of acres of wildlife and wetland areas. The FWS operates within the DOI and primarily aims to conserve fish and wildlife for use and enjoyment into the future. It’s also involved in the enforcement of wildlife laws including those that protect endangered species and migratory birds.
National Parks Service
The National Parks Service (NPS) maintains the 423 national parks in the US and aims to conserve cultural and natural resources of the areas for recreation, conservation and educational purposes. National park areas include sites of historic significance and the Service focuses on the conservation and responsible use of these areas. Land managers are an integral part of this mission, as the balance between use and conservation of national parks is often difficult and overuse can damage these areas. Like the FWS and BLM, the National Parks Service also exists within the DOI.
The US Forest Service is a part of the Department of Agriculture (DOA) and manages the National Forest System. This includes 193 million acres of forests and grasslands, and focuses on conserving forest health, wildlife habitat and ecosystem services like water flow and availability of timber. The Forest Service is also in charge of managing these forests for recreation and livestock grazing purposes.
What Do Conservation Land Managers Do?
Conservation land managers work at all of the agencies listed above, protecting lands for their varying purposes. They implement many different strategies in order to pursue conservation goals and must be well-versed in research and environmental policy.
In order to achieve conservation goals at organizations and government agencies, land managers work to develop management plans. Conservation land management can involve a wide variety of actions like controlling and removing invasive species, implementing controlled burns, restoring wildlife or planting native species.
Conservation land managers are not always in the field implementing these processes by hand, but are essential to developing management plans to decide when and where these tools are implemented. Land managers must know what strategies are appropriate to address certain issues and the needs of the land and wildlife. In addition to making these decisions, land managers may also be involved in managing staff at the organizations they work for.
Land managers don’t usually do as much field research as foresters or conservation researchers, but they might be involved in reviewing research in order to determine land management needs. Land managers must understand the intricacies of the areas they are working to conserve and know how different components are interacting.
For example, the BLM is required to use physical, biological, and economic data in its land use planning, which means that conservation land managers must be able to understand and interpret this information.
They also must often use tools like GIS (Geographic Information System) to map geospatial data and understand impacts on the land from human influence.
Conservation land managers must work within the scope of environmental law and work with state and local governments, even if they work for a non-government organization. For example, management plans must fulfill the requirements of essential environmental acts like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA). Each of the agencies listed above must operate within the scope of environmental law in pursuing their conservation missions, and are often involved in the development and alteration of policies.
Because land is often used for multiple purposes, especially public lands, land managers may also be involved in conflict resolution between stakeholders. Landowners, timber companies, developers, and biologists all have different incentives and expectations, and land managers are often involved in managing these competing interests.
About THE AUTHOR
In addition to finishing my Masters in Environmental Policy and Management with a concentration in Energy and Sustainability, I have had extensive research experience. My undergraduate degree concentrated in Environmental Science, and I have been involved in multiple research projects including conservation and environmental research. My ability to look critically at information and understand scientific vernacular has helped me in communicating that information to others who have different backgrounds and strengths than my own. I love discussing topics in conservation, climate, and renewable energy and thoroughly enjoy writing about them every day.Read more about Ariana Guilak