Sunset behind a tree with exposed roots on a beach

Special Planning Designations

BLM land use plans that contain one or more special designations call for these areas to be managed with a particular focus: providing for recreation or conserving particularly significant resources.  

Wilderness Areas | In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, which defined wilderness areas as places “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Congress designates Wilderness areas and specifies the agency that will manage them. The BLM is responsible for 223 Wilderness areas encompassing more than 8.7 million acres in 10 states, and manages these lands to ensure that they maintain the wilderness characteristics.

Special Recreation Management Areas (SRMAs) |  SRMAs provide specific for recreational opportunities, such as trailhead areas for hikers, mountain bikers or off-road vehicle users.

Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs) |  ACEC designations are unique to the BLM and highlight areas where special management attention is needed to protect important historical, cultural, and scenic values, or fish and wildlife or other natural resources, or to protect human life and safety from natural hazards. ACECs can only be designated during the land-use planning process.

Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) | In 1976, under FLPMA, Congress directed the BLM to review the roadless areas it managed to determine if they met certain standards for wildness. After an extensive public involvement process, the BLM in 1980 designated as WSAs about 25 million acres of lands that met these standards. Congress has since designated some as wilderness and released others for non-wilderness uses. Until Congress makes a final determination on a WSA, the BLM manages the area to preserve their suitability for possible designation as wilderness. 

  • Under FLPMA Congress also directed the BLM to maintain and update an inventory of lands that meet the Wilderness Act's wilderness standards, called Lands with Wilderness Characteristics. Changes to this inventory do not change lands designated as WSAs.