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Public Lands: Background and Overview
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Change
Preventing Pollution
Public Education
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

2001 Management Policies of the National Park Service
Service-wide policy document to help Service employees manage parks responsibly and make rational, w...

2006 Green Parks
EPA Region 8 pollution prevention programs and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have...

Environmental Leadership: Correspondence from NPS Director to All Employees
Kick off to Environmental Leadership program. Introduction to goal for all national park employees ...

Executive Order ## 13101 - Greening the Government Through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal ...
The Executive Order including roles and responsibilities, definitions and discussion of purchasing. ...

Guiding Principles of Sustainable Design
The goal of this handbook is to direct park management policy in achieving sustainability in facilit...

National Association of State Parks Directors (NASPD)
NASPD is devoted to the successful and effective administration of state parks. This site provides ...

The National Park Service Organic Act
Full text of the act establishing the National Park Service with information on their guiding princi...

Public lands are of historical, scenic, recreational and scientific importance to our nation. They are administered and cared for by a variety of federal, state and local agencies. These unique areas provide a cultural heritage for the country, environmental protection to unique natural habitats and play a valuable role in the economies and public health of many surrounding communities, whether an individual visits them or not.

The state park systems represent an important and diverse component of America's public lands. The mission of state parks is "to provide close-to-home resource-based outdoor recreation opportunities at a moderate cost" (Landrum, 1999b). The 50 state park systems include 5,616 park areas totaling 13 million acres and reported 766 million visits in 2001. Source: National Association of State Park Directors. County and municipal parks are another large and diverse group of public recreational lands.

The National Park Service, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, managed almost 85 million acres (345 designated units) in 2001. In that same year they served more than 420 million visitors. Units are diverse including historical parks and monuments; preserves, forests, rivers and seashores; and recreational, environmental education, and scientific areas (NPS Public Use Statistics Office and National Association of State Park Directors)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), another agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, administers 261 million acres of America's public lands, located primarily in 12 Western States. Their mission is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Source:

Established in 1905, the Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Forest Service manages public lands in national forests and grasslands. Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the Forest Service, summed up the mission of the Forest Service - "to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run." National forests and grasslands encompass 191 million acres (77.3 million hectares) of land, which is an area equivalent to the size of Texas. Source:

Challenges to Effective Management

The scale and type of activities taking place on these lands varies greatly. Some operate as entire communities with facilities that service every need of visitors, employees, research and recreation. Others are rustic, sometimes in remote destinations with few amenities.

Over time, pressures have increased from both inside and outside public land boundaries that are detrimental to the resources they encompass. Obligations to provide recreational access and services for visitors have often conflicted with the obligation to preserve and enhance natural and cultural resources and have stressed operating budgets.

The potential for pollution from internal operations increases with the increase of visitation and services provided. And outside pressures -- like air and water pollution, population and traffic congestion, noise, impaired emergency response systems, and wildlife habitat destruction -- do not stop at their boundaries. The result is a general degradation of the resources the agencies have been given the responsibility to protect.

Role of Pollution Prevention

Pollution prevention can reduce both internal and external pressures because it consists of any activity or strategy that eliminates or reduces the use of toxic substances, conserves water or energy, and eliminates (or reduces) the generation of nonproductive output, hazardous waste, air emissions, wastewater or other pollutants. (Find out more about pollution prevention in the P2 Topic Hub.)

The opportunities to apply pollution prevention can be found in planning, management and operational activities. In addition, public lands have an opportunity to showcase their own good stewardship and potentially reduce external pressures by educating visitors. Interpretive discussions and displays can provide a clear message of why and how visitors can apply pollution prevention and good stewardship at home.

Because most public lands are managed with a resource conservation focus, pollution prevention is not a new concept. The National Park Service began a “sustainability” initiative as early as 1990 that included pollution prevention as a core activity. State parks, BLM and the Forest Service have also applied a variety of pollution prevention activities. With new visitors, constantly changing purchasing and service contracts, and staff turnover, incorporating pollution prevention into daily operations is a matter of continuous improvement often requiring an "environmental champion" to maintain momentum.

The other sections in this hub identify areas where pollution prevention can be applied and links to tools that assistance providers can use to most effectively assess and address needs. These tools include agency planning documents, management directives, legislative and executive orders, assessment tools, and case studies of successful partnerships and activities on public lands. It also supports the vision of educating staff, visitors, suppliers and neighboring communities to bring about behavioral changes that can protect public lands in the long term.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Public Lands Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Peaks to Prairies Pollution Prevention Center
Peaks to Prairies Pollution Prevention Center
Contact email:

Hub Last Updated: 12/4/2012