"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 takings.

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 Interior.”

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 AHA unit.

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 million.

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 version]

Copyright © 1992, 2004, Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved

page last updated 7/4/04