National Conservation Areas (NCAs)

A National Conservation Area (NCA) is a legislative tool used by Congress to conserve, protect, restore, and manage public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. These lands feature exceptional scientific, cultural, ecological, historical, and recreational values. The designation applies only to federal lands, not state or local.

The National Landscape Conservation System, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), includes 16 NCAs with 3 of them located in Arizona, including Gila Box Riparian, Las Cienegas, and San Pedro Riparian NCA. Currently all NCAs are managed by the BLM.

Unlike wilderness areas, there is not a single congressional act which identifies allowable uses and that guides management of National Conservation Areas. Instead, the NCA’s establishing legislation identifies the unique values to be protected and then provides direction as to how that is to be accomplished by the Bureau of Land Management on a case-by-case basis. The BLM is directed by the establishing legislation to create and implement a resource management plan (RMP). The RMP would permit the recreational uses allowed in the new NCA and dictate specific management actions designed to protect the values (cultural, scenic, wildlife, etc.) for which the area was set aside. These actions could include wilderness management, wildlife protection areas, recreational zones, or other diverse management tool.

The Sonoran Desert Heritage campaign is advocating for the creation of two new National Conservation Areas on BLM lands in western Maricopa County.