"Endangered Landscapes" the Next Spotted AHLs?
Preservationists Launch New Federal Agenda For Land Use Controls
By Erich Veyhl
This article was originally published in The Land Rights Letter, May 1992.
Landowners who think they don't have to worry about National Park
Service abuses of civil rights if they aren't near a National Park had
better look again. A March 13, 1992 “Concept Paper”
produced by the Park Service and circulating nationally among
preservationists and planners outlines “how we might all work
together to establish a systematic framework for protecting and using
what we are now calling American heritage landscapes.”
The proposed national system of Greenline areas, now being called
“American Heritage Landscapes” (AHLs) would be authorized
in Federal legislation and managed by state and local agencies
operating under Federal, State and local authority to enforce land use
controls approved by the National Park Service.
The AHL System was also proposed last year under the name
“American Heritage Area System” by a National Park Service
Director's Taskforce, which urged a Congressionally authorized,
expanded Park Service “mandate” for a
“partnership” of Federal, state, and local preservationist
interests to control land use planning nationwide. The Taskforce said
that “the need is for an alternative to creating new units of
the National Park System when the resources do not meet the test of
national significance, suitability, and feasibility” – the
usual criteria for new National Parks.
In essence, the proposed AHL System is an effort to make the National
Park Service the lead agency for nationally sponsored land use
controls. It would empower local and state preservationists with
Federal funding, organization, and public relations staffs to assist
and help consolidate control over private land through all available
means. The AHL nomination and designation process is similar to the
one already used in some areas to establish local surrogates planning
on behalf of proposed new Federal Wild and Scenic River designations.
The AHLs would provide Federally funded lobbying and extend the
Federal river corridor concept to the Greenlining of landscapes of any
kind or size.
For planning and inventory purposes the Park Service envisions
dividing the country into 13 major regions, each broken down
“into more than 100 valued landscape regions” which would
represent landscape themes. Potential AHLs would be recommended and
prioritized by “state heritage landscape boards” and
“consolidated into a single priority list by a national American
Heritage Landscape Advisory Board” appointed by the Interior
Department and staffed by the Park Service.
The Park Service would conduct landscape “studies” in
“partnership” with advocates, followed by lobbying for
Federal legislation based on the findings claimed by the study.
After Congressional designation, land use controls would be written
subject to Park Service oversight and approval, and then implemented
by local or state boards. The plans would, among other items,
“provide a more complete inventory and evaluation of resources;
determine appropriate levels, types and limits of public use; propose
preservation and interpretation measures; provide for protection and
enhancement of economic activities consistent with the public values
of the landscape; outline the 'tool box' of applicable land management
techniques; specify the technical and financial assistance required;
and outline the costs to all parties to implement the plan.”
The Park Service Concept Paper recommends funding the proposed
expansion of Federal management and administration with a $1.4
billion/year fuel tax which would be merged with the Land and Water
Conservation Fund (LWCF) now used for Federally funded acquisition.
LWCF funding – which preservationists are also lobbying to
increase with an off-budget Federal “trust fund”
entitlement of $1 billion/year for acquisitions – would continue
to finance land acquisition in areas targeted by preservationists, but
the Concept Paper insists that the AHL System by itself is “not
a Federal land acquisition program.” The Park Service also
proposes that expenses for management of the new greenline areas would
be shared with state and local sources.
Despite the proposed new Federal, state, and local costs, the 1991
Taskforce proposal claimed that the AHL Greenline system benefits from
Federal “Cost Avoidance.” The Park Service financial analysis reached
this conclusion by comparing the direct Federal costs in a Greenline
system to the typical costs of Federal park acquisition and
maintenance “if the same areas were to come into the National Park
System.” The analysis did not include local and state government
costs and losses to property owners through uncompensated regulatory
While the AHL proposal is unknown to the general public and to most
landowner groups, and there has been no notification of a comment
period in the Federal Register, the Park Service set an April 13, 1992
deadline for “comments” from those who received the report.
A second draft of the Concept Paper is scheduled for distribution from
May 2 through June 5, during which period the Park Service will hold
“nationwide public workshops” where preservationists and government
officials will discuss how to proceed. The final release of the
report is scheduled for early July to justify implementation.
The National Heritage Conservation Act (S-2556) – related
legislation creating a new system of National Heritage Areas –
was introduced on April 8 by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-AR) “to
provide for a highest degree of protection and preservation of the
Nation's heritage of natural and historic places.” The Heritage
Conservation Act would, according to Bumpers, apply to property both
in and near “units of the National Park System, including
affiliated areas, national historic landmarks, national natural
landmarks, and sites nominated by the Secretary of the
Bumper's legislation does not yet describe a framework for the AHLs
and additional legislation is expected in order to, according to the
Park Service, “create a new mandate” for the AHLs.
[Note July 4, 2004: the Bumpers bill failed, as have several attempts
to legislate a framework for new “Heritage Areas”. Such a “Heritage Areas” initiative is again now before Congress as S.2543 and H.R.1427]
Excerpts from 7/91 Proposal:
Either a state and/or local group could ask the National Park Service
that an area be studied for AHA designation... Studies would be
undertaken with full participation by the National Park Service,
state, and local groups followed by the preparation of a comprehensive
implementation/action plan with which all parties agree... the
Service wold review the plan formally and would certify the plan. The
plan would be transmitted ... to Congress ... for its designation and
specific funding needs that would be matched by state, local, private,
and/or non-profit funds... The National Park Service could initiate a
study at the discretion of the Director...
The area can be either large or small ...
An analysis of the natural, cultural, and recreational resources
within the study area must demonstrate, through an inventory
indicating already established levels of significance, that the
identifiable geographic area is not nationally significant as defined
by the National Park Service for units of the National Park
System... The area must offer demonstrated recreation potential for
visitor use, education, and enjoyment... The AHA Plan must have the
endorsement of all applicable jurisdictions [and] be consistent with:
state, local, and regional plans; economic objectives; environmental
quality; and social concerns.
The hallmark of the system is the establishment of a partnership among
Federal, state, and local interests to achive mutual goals. This
partnership may be initiated by local, state and private interests or
by the NPS at the Director's discretion or at the request of Congress.
Legislation would be requested that would authorize the Secretary of
the Interior [NPS] to study the viability of an AHA and report back to
the Congress with his statement of eligibility for designation as an
Once an authorization is enacted and appropriation made, the American
Heritage Area Planning Phase begins. This phase of work brings all
the parties together under one umbrella to reach agreement on required
studies, resource inventories, strategies, assessment of impacts,
public participation, and development of a planning report.
The National park Service will certify that the purpose and criteria
have been met, that studies, plans, and commitments are in place, and
that the provisions of the proposed legislation authorizing a system
of American Heritage Areas have been followed.
The legislation designating a particular AHA would establish the terms
and conditions for further Federal involvement, authorize funding, and
identify other special conditions unique to the particular AHA.
The tables on the adjacent page provide information about the costs
avoided by the Federal government by using the AHA System. No attempt
is made to estimate the costs to the states or local governments;
however, it is anticipated that an AHA would create service industry
jobs and generate tourism income, resulting in some level of
tax-generated income to the state and /or local units of government.
To complete the analysis, we assume a 50/50 matching ration and an
average annual cost to run a unit of the National Park System of $2.0
The AHA System will cost the National Park Service some
money. However, based on our analysis, we believe the cost avoidance
is significantly higher than if the same area were to come into the
National park System because of the perpetual operation and
maintenance costs associate with NPS units.
[Claimed benefits to NPS:] Ensuring success by requiring all
jurisdictions involved to endorse project. [not included in 1992
Copyright © 1992, 2004, Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved
page last updated 7/4/04