Regulation Rundown

Maureen Halsema

Public lands fall under a variety of different designations and regulations—enough to make anyone’s head spin. Here’s the rundown on public lands.

National Parks vs. National Forests

National parks and national forests are both federally managed, but national parks are managed by park rangers from the National Park Service, a unit of the Department of the Interior, while national forests are run by forest rangers of the U.S. Forest Service, a sector of the Department of Agriculture.

The conservation goals of national parks and national forests also differ. National parks are preserved with the intent to keep lands in an unimpaired state for the enjoyment and recreation of future generations. National forests are run with the vision of multiple uses, meaning they meet the nation’s needs in a variety of means, beyond simply recreation. National forests, unlike national parks, permit activities such as logging, livestock grazing and mining.

Both national parks and national forests allow the use of motorized vehicles.

State Parks vs. State Forests

The state parks and forests are run similarly to the national parks and forests, except they are state managed. Regulations, such as whether hunting and logging are allowed, vary from state to state. The basic premise of conservation ideals is universal across most state boundaries.

Wilderness Areas

Wilderness areas can be found in both national parks and forests. For example, 40 percent of Shenandoah National Park has been designated a wilderness area, which means that this section of the park has the maximum protections of all public lands and is dedicated to research, education, recreation, and conservation. Regulations vary among wilderness areas, but there are some commonly shared restrictions. For example, motorized vehicles or equipment are prohibited within the wilderness area.

Recreation is restricted to primitive and noninvasive activities, such as, hiking and canoeing, and sometimes hunting and fishing. Mining permits that were issued prior to the land’s designation as a wilderness area are allowed to operate but are strictly regulated. Logging is only allowed by the wilderness managers or for permitted mining activities.

Preservation Politics

Millions of acres have been leased to oil and gas drilling as well as logging. Endangered species have been virtually ignored. Snowmobiles and four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles have been invited into national parklands. The Bush administration has left quite an environmental mess for the Obama administration to try and clean up. In March, President Obama took the first step, when he signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 into law, adding 2 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System in nine states, including Virginia and West Virginia.

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