Biker on trail looking out at sunset.

Special Planning Designations

Most of the BLM’s land use plans will contain one or more special designations that say the land will be managed with a particular focus to provide for public recreation or to conserve some significant resource. These special designations include: 

Special Recreation Management Areas (SRMAs):  The BLM’s land use plans may designate SRMAs to provide specific for recreational opportunities, such as developing trailhead areas for hikers, mountain bikers, or off-road vehicle users.  

Wilderness Areas:  In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, which established the first wilderness areas. The law 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.” The BLM is responsible for 223 Wilderness Areas encompassing more than 8.7 million acres in 10 Western States. The BLM manages these lands to ensure that they maintain these wilderness characteristics.

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 about 25 million acres of lands that met these standards as WSAs. Since that time, Congress has reviewed some of these areas and has designated some as wilderness and released others for non-wilderness uses. Until Congress makes a final determination on a WSA, the BLM manages these areas to preserve their suitability for designation as wilderness.  

Under FLPMA, Congress also directed the BLM to maintain and update an inventory of lands that met the Act’s wilderness standards. Conditions relating to wilderness characteristics may change over time, so the BLM continues to maintain and update this inventory. Changes to this inventory do not change those lands designated as WSAs. Learn more about lands with wilderness characteristics.

Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs):  ACEC designations highlight areas where special management attention is needed to protect important historical, cultural, and scenic values, or fish and wildlife or other natural resources. ACECs can also be designated to protect human life and safety from natural hazards. ACECs can only be designated during the land-use planning process. View information about ACECs and download a current list.