As of 2015, protected areas of the United States constituted 499,800 square miles. This area is 14% of the total land area of the US and a tenth of the world’s protected land area. The number of protected areas in the United States was 25,800 in 2015. In addition to the protected areas on land, the US also had 787 National Marine Protected Areas. The National Marine Protected Areas covered 490, 893 square miles. This area is 12% of the US total marine area.
Protected areas of the US are operated by various authorities. The authorities could be local, tribal, state or federal. Other areas are managed between levels of government. The level of protection of these areas is unique to each area. Some areas are managed as wildernesses. Such areas are intact and undisturbed wild natural areas. Other areas are managed with acceptable commercial exploitation. This fact means that the natural resources found in these areas can be exploited for economic growth. Exploitation of these resources could result in a negative impact on the environment such as environmental degradation.
Federal Level Protected Areas
According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), there were 6,770 federal level protected land areas in the US. These land areas are managed by various agencies. Most of the agencies managing these areas are part of the National Park Service. The National Park Service is a bureau of the United States Department of the Interior. The other areas are managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) describes the levels of protection. The highest level is level I, which is the Strict Nature Reserves & Wilderness Areas and level II which is the National Parks. 12% of the world’s Level I and II lands is maintained in the US and has a total area of 210,000 square miles. Designations of federally protected land areas include the National Park System, National Forest, and National Conservation Lands among others.
State Level Protected Areas
These are state parks. State parks are varied. While some are the size of urban parks, others are large parks that are on par with national parks. For example, the Adirondack Park, which is a state park, is similar to the national parks of England and Wales. Numerous towns are located inside this park. About half the area of the state park is owned by the state. The largest state park is Wood-Tikchik State Park in Alaska.
Local Level Protected Areas
Some local level parks are extensive nature reserves whereas others are more like playgrounds or picnic areas. Local parks are managed by a variety of local authorities such as cities, counties, regional soil conservation districts, and metropolitan authorities. The largest city park in the United States is the South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona.