What is an ACEC?

An Overview of BLM's Areas For Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs)

Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, also known as ACEC’s, are places that exist within public lands that feature important values where special management is required to protect those values. These may be related to fish and wildlife or may be historical, cultural, scenic or a combination of values. These areas can be nominated by anyone, are evaluated by the agency for their important features and nominated for designation by the agency if they require special management for protection.

A Collaborative Process (Usually)

During a federal land use planning process, the respective agency (usually the Bureau of Land Management or the US Forest Service) works with state, local and tribal governments as well as the public and other stakeholders to shape the land use plan. Part of this process includes determining the appropriate management of certain landscapes within the planning area, including potential ACEC designation.


No two ACEC’s are the same, and therefore, the management of each one will differ somewhat and is related to the values and resources that are being protected. For example, the management of an ACEC that is designed to protect a critical watershed may call for limited grazing practices in certain areas to protect the stream and riparian areas. Similarly, the amount of recreation or road construction may be limited in an ACEC that is designed to protect cultural resources.

The Steamboat Mountain ACEC, for example in the Rock Springs Field Office (which is proposed for expansion under the recently released Rock Springs draft Resource Management Plan) is home to a rare desert elk herd. The proposed management of the ACEC contemplates seasonal restrictions on road and trail use and would require that development plans ensure adequate protection measures are taken to maintain the elk herd and its habitat, among many other things.


Steamboat Mountain ACEC is closed to motor vehicle use from May 10 to July 1 for crucial birthing habitat for deer and elk.

The BLM-administered public lands in the Cedar Canyon ACEC are open to consideration for mineral leasing with restrictions to protect cultural and wildlife values, particularly raptors and raptor habitat, big game winter range, and watershed values. 

The White Mountain Petroglyphs ACEC is open to consideration of such activities as fencing, interpretive signs, or construction or placement of barriers to ensure the protection of the site. Public awareness and use of the area as an educational site are encouraged.

Katherine and Gray Plunkett with Bull
Katherine and Gray Plunkett with Katherine's 2022 bull elk near Kilpecker Sand Dunes, her 2nd big game animal ever.

The Bureau of Land Management is proposing adding over a million acres of ACEC’s to the landscape through new designation and expansion of existing ACEC’s in the Rock Springs draft RMP. The release of this draft plan kicks off a 90-day comment period. Note: the comment period has been extended until January 17, 2024 for the Rock Springs RMP. This is your opportunity to read up on the BLM’s proposed plan and offer your thoughts.