Which Western states are leading and lagging in protecting public lands?

Apr 2, 2024

An updated analysis from the Center for Western Priorities finds that not every Western state is living up to its conservation legacy. Oregon in particular has a proud conservation tradition, yet a dysfunctional Congress is blocking the largest conservation opportunity in the West.

The report, Conservation Gridlock, is an annual update to a 2022 analysis that looked at the acres of national public land protected over the last 20 years in eight Western states. This year’s update finds that in the last decade, Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming have conserved far less land than other Western states. In fact, the three leading states—California, Utah, and Nevada—have protected 14 times more acres of public land than the three bottom states.

“While we’ve seen great progress in many states under the Biden administration, it’s disappointing to see conservation at a standstill in states where the voters overwhelmingly support protecting public lands,” Center for Western Priorities Policy and Design Associate Lilly Bock-Brownstein said in a statement. “Voters want these iconic Western landscapes to be protected from mining, drilling, and other impacts.”

Talking public lands extremism with Betsy Gaines Quammen

In the latest episode of the Center for Western Priorities podcast, The Landscape, Kate and Aaron are joined by author Betsy Gaines Quammen to talk about public lands and extremism. Betsy has written two books about extremism in the West. Her first, American Zion, looks at the connection between Mormonism and extremism. Her second book, True West, which came out last year, digs into the myths that define the West.

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Quote of the day

Legislation to protect Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands has been languishing in Congress for a decade. It’s time for elected leaders to work with President Biden to take action to protect this massive and remote landscape for future generations.”

—Lilly Bock-Brownstein, Policy and Design Associate, Center for Western Priorities


Picture This


@joshuatreenps 🌸 Life can be like a cactus. Thorny but beautiful. 🌸 If you’ve ever driven through the Pinto Basin in Joshua Tree National Park, you might have seen a strange type of vegetation stretching up high into the sky. This is the Ocotillo (pronounced oh-koh-TEE-yoh), an iconic Southwestern desert plant. Ocotillo can reach up to 20-30 feet in the air and are famous for their strange, coral-like stalks. If you are visiting the park during a dry period, these plants might look like spiky, brown sticks extending from the ground. But don’t worry! The Ocotillo isn’t dead, it’s just “dormant”. In the desert, Ocotillos photosynthesize slower to conserve water, creating that dry, dead look. Then, when rain arrives, the plant comes back to life! After rain passes through the desert, the brown branches of these plants will turn green with thousands of slender leaves, and the ends of their stalks bloom with bright red-orange tubular flowers. The Ocotillo is also known as “little torch” in Spanish, which makes sense after seeing these flowers! The Ocotillo Patch is a scenic pull off along Pinto Basin Road in Joshua Tree National Park where visitors can see these plants up close. Just like the Ocotillo, consider branching out to new areas of the park during the busy season. Some of the most beautiful sights can be seen off the beaten path! Photo by: NPS Emily Hassell
Feature image: The Owyhee River, BLM Oregon and Washington