The protected areas of the United States are managed by an array of different federal, state, tribal and local level authorities and receive widely varying levels of protection. Some areas are managed as wilderness, while others are operated with acceptable commercial exploitation. As of 2022 [update] , the 42,826 protected areas covered 1,235,486 km2 (477,024 sq mi), or 13 percent of the land area of the United States. This is also one-tenth of the protected land area of the world.[ citation needed ] The U.S. also had a total of 871 National Marine Protected Areas, covering an additional 1,636,523 km2 (631,865 sq mi), or 19 percent of the total marine area of the United States.
Federal protected areas include lands and waters owned outright ("Fee ownerships"), as well as areas that are secured by easements, leases, etc. In addition to ownership-defined areas, there are numerous overlaying policy designations that apply management protections and use conditions on all or some of individual protected areas (e.g., Wilderness Areas, National Monuments, etc.).
As of 2007 [update] , according to the United Nations Environment Programme, the U.S. had a total of 6,770 terrestrial nationally designated (federal) protected areas. Federal level protected areas are managed by a variety of agencies, most of which are a part of the National Park Service, a bureau of the United States Department of the Interior. They are often considered the crown jewels of the protected areas. Other areas are managed by the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The United States Army Corps of Engineers is claimed to provide 30 percent of the recreational opportunities on federal lands, mainly through lakes and waterways that they manage.
The highest levels of protection, as described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are Level I (Strict Nature Reserves & Wilderness Areas) and Level II (National Parks). The United States maintains 12 percent of the Level I and II lands in the world. These lands had a total area of 210,000 sq mi (540,000 km2).[ citation needed ]
Because U.S. federal protected areas include both ownership based names, and names related to overlaying policy designations, the naming system for U.S. protected areas results in some types being used by more than one agency. For instance, both the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service manage areas designated National Preserves and National Recreation Areas. The National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management manage areas called national monuments. National Wilderness Areas are designated within other protected areas, managed by various agencies and sometimes wilderness areas span areas managed by multiple agencies. Those relying on U.S. protected areas data are advised to learn more about all of these conventions by reviewing the extensive PAD-US Help system.
There are existing federal designations of historic or landmark status that may support preservation via tax incentives, but that do not necessarily convey any protection, including a listing on the National Register of Historic Places or a designation as a National Historic Landmark. States and local zoning bodies may or may not choose to protect these. The state of Colorado, for example, is very clear that it does not set any limits on owners of NRHP properties.
Federal protected area designations
International protected area designations
Every state has a system of state parks as well as many other types of protected areas (forests, reserves, refuges, recreation areas, etc.). State parks vary widely from urban parks to very large parks that are on a par with national parks. Some state parks, like Adirondack Park, are similar to the national parks of England and Wales, with numerous towns inside the borders of the park. About half the area of the park, some 3,000,000 acres (1,200,000 ha), is state-owned and preserved as "forever wild" by the Forest Preserve of New York. Wood-Tikchik State Park in Alaska is the largest state park by the amount of contiguous protected land; it is larger than many U.S. National Parks, with some 1,600,000 acres (650,000 ha), making it larger than the state of Delaware. Many states also operate game and recreation areas.
U.S. counties, cities and towns, metropolitan authorities, regional park systems, recreation districts and other units manage a wide variety of local public parks and other protected areas. Some of these are little more than picnic areas or playgrounds; however, others are extensive nature reserves. South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona, for example, is called the largest city park in the United States; it spans 25 sq mi (65 km2) and contains 58 mi (93 km) of trails.
The United States Forest Service (USFS) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that administers the nation's 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands. The Forest Service manages 193 million acres (780,000 km2) of land. Major divisions of the agency include the Chief's Office, National Forest System, State and Private Forestry, Business Operations, and Research and Development. The agency manages about 25% of federal lands and is the only major national land management agency not part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which manages the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.
In the United States, national forest is a classification of protected and managed federal lands. National forests are largely forest and woodland areas owned collectively by the American people through the federal government, and managed by the United States Forest Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Forest Service is also a forestry research organization who provides financial assistance to state and local forestry industry. As of 2020, there are 154 national forests in the United States.
The National Park Service (NPS) is an agency of the United States federal government headquartered at the Main Interior Building in Washington, D.C., that manages all national parks, most national monuments, and other natural, historical, and recreational properties with various title designations. The United States Congress created the agency on August 25, 1916, through the National Park Service Organic Act.
National Wildlife RefugeSystem is a designation for certain protected areas of the United States managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is the system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America's fish, wildlife, and plants. Since President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, the system has grown to over 568 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts encompassing more than 150,000,000 acres (607,028 km2).
The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Actof 1968, enacted by the U.S. Congress to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
In all modern states, a portion of land is held by central or local governments. This is called public land, state land, or Crown land. The system of tenure of public land, and the terminology used, varies between countries. The following examples illustrate some of the range.
Wilderness or wildlands, are natural environments on Earth that have not been significantly modified by human activity or any nonurbanized land not under extensive agricultural cultivation. The term has traditionally referred to terrestrial environments, though growing attention is being placed on marine wilderness. Recent maps of wilderness suggest it covers roughly one quarter of Earth's terrestrial surface, but is being rapidly degraded by human activity. Even less wilderness remains in the ocean, with only 13.2% free from intense human activity.
Olympic National Forest is a U.S. National Forest located in Washington, USA. With an area of 628,115 acres (2,541.89 km2), it nearly surrounds Olympic National Park and the Olympic Mountain range. Olympic National Forest contains parts of Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, and Mason counties. The landscape of the national forest varies, from the temperate Olympic rain forest to the salt water fjord of Hood Canal to the peaks of Mt. Washington.
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) is a United States federal law signed by President Jimmy Carter on December 2, 1980. ANILCA provided varying degrees of special protection to over 157,000,000 acres (64,000,000 ha) of land, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, wild and scenic rivers, recreational areas, national forests, and conservation areas. It was, and remains to date, the single largest expansion of protected lands in history and more than doubled the size of the National Park System.
The protected areas of Michigan come in an array of different types and levels of protection. Michigan has five units of the National Park Service system. There are 14 federal wilderness areas; the majority of these are also tribal-designated wildernesses. It has one of the largest state forest systems as well having four national forests. The state maintains a large state park system and there are also regional parks, and county, township and city parks. Still other parks on land and in the Great Lakes are maintained by other governmental bodies. Private protected areas also exist in the state, mainly lands owned by land conservancies.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 was written by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society. It created the legal definition of wilderness in the United States, and protected 9.1 million acres (37,000 km²) of federal land. The result of a long effort to protect federal wilderness and to create a formal mechanism for designating wilderness, the Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964 after over sixty drafts and eight years of work.
The National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) of the United States protects federally managed wilderness areas designated for preservation in their natural condition. Activity on formally designated wilderness areas is coordinated by the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness areas are managed by four federal land management agencies: the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.
National Conservation Lands, formally known as the National Landscape Conservation System, is a 35-million-acre (140,000 km2) collection of lands in 873 federally recognized areas considered to be the crown jewels of the American West. These lands represent 10% of the 258 million acres (1,040,000 km2) managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM is the largest federal public land manager and is responsible for over 40% of all the federal public land in the nation. The other major federal public land managers include the US Forest Service (USFS), National Park Service (NPS), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument is a National Monument in southern California. It includes portions of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountain ranges, the northernmost ones of the Peninsular Ranges system. The national monument covers portions of Riverside County, west of the Coachella Valley, approximately 100 miles (160 km) southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
The National Wildlife Refuge System in the United States has a long and distinguished history.
The Wilderness Society is an American non-profit land conservation organization that is dedicated to protecting natural areas and federal public lands in the United States. They advocate for the designation of federal wilderness areas and other protective designations, such as for national monuments. They support balanced uses of public lands, and advocate for federal politicians to enact various land conservation and balanced land use proposals. The Wilderness Society also engages in a number of ancillary activities, including education and outreach, and hosts one of the most valuable collections of Ansel Adams photographs at their headquarters in Washington, D.C.
According to the California Protected Areas Database (CPAD), in the state of California, United States, there are over 14,000 inventoried protected areas administered by public agencies and non-profits. In addition, there are private conservation areas and other easements. They include almost one-third of California's scenic coastline, including coastal wetlands, estuaries, beaches, and dune systems. The California State Parks system alone has 270 units and covers 1.3 million acres (5,300 km2), with over 280 miles (450 km) of coastline, 625 miles (1,006 km) of lake and river frontage, nearly 18,000 campsites, and 3,000 miles (5,000 km) of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.
The protected areas of North Carolina cover roughly 3.8 million acres, making up 11% of the total land in the state. 86.5% of this protected land is publicly owned and is managed by different federal and state level authorities and receive varying levels of protection. Some areas are managed as wilderness while others are operated with acceptable commercial exploitation. The remainder of the land is privately owned, but willingly entered into conservation easement management agreements, or are owned by various nonprofit conservation groups such as the National Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy. North Carolina contains 1 National Park, and various other federally owned protected land including 2 National Seashores, 5 National Forests, 12 Wildlife Refuges, and the southern half of the Blue Ridge Parkway. North Carolina has an extensive system of 41 state parks, 34 of which are state parks, 4 that are recreation areas, and 3 staffed state natural areas, along with other designated units managed by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.