Companion Designations are public lands that are managed under specific guidelines set out by Congress in a piece of legislation, but are not Wilderness. Unlike Wilderness, there is no organic legislation that controls what is to be permitted or prohibited within the area. The management proscriptions are set forth in the individual designation thus they are greatly varied. The advantage of this is that each area can be specifically tailored to meet the environmental needs of the land and provide a place for the experiences the people want when visiting the area.
Where are these areas?
Congress has used Companion Designations over a hundred times. For a detailed list click here.
Why use a Companion Designation?
Companion Designations are often used in conjunction with Wilderness designation to accommodate activities that would otherwise be prohibited in Wilderness.
For example the King Range National Conservation Area in California has shown to be a great success. There and area with a broad range of stake holders were able to use Wilderness and a Companion Designation to protect a very unique and beautiful ecosystem and accommodate the development of an incredible new mountain biking trail system.
Companion designations have also been used to provide an area for a particular use or to address specific concerns. The Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area in Oregon was developed to address the need to protect a treasured landscape and better manage grazing activity on the land.
Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in Idaho was created to protect an area where a variety of raptors nest while still accommodating nearby military training.
Who Manages Companion Designation Areas?
As with Wilderness all the agencies responsible for managing public lands manage areas with a Companion Designations.
Bicycles and Companion Designations
Just because a Companion Designation covers an area does not mean that mountain bikes will be permitted. The legislatively prescribed management for the area can range from prohibition of mechanized travel, like Wilderness, See 1993 Colorado Wilderness act., to a statement that bicycling is within the scope of activities that could be allowed. We have yet to find any legislative command that requires an agency to manage an area for mountain biking. IMBA is currently working with recreation advocates, agencies and legislators to develop a Companion Designation that is not only bike friendly, but also actively promotes outdoor recreation.