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Worlds End Celebrates 50th Anniversary

By Eleanor Mahoney August 30, 2017
World's End, Hingham, Massachusetts.

World’s End, Hingham, Massachusetts.

In the late nineteenth century, land conservation by either public entities or private foundations remained relatively rare in the United States. The federal government had only just begun creating National Parks and Forests, while many state and municipal park systems were also in their very early stages. Few, if any, private organizations made land acquisition for the purposes of natural and cultural resource protection a priority, even though open spaces in and around growing cities faced pressure from development as did regions home to extractive industries like such as timber and coal.

In his book Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America, author Richard Brewer points to 1891 as a pivotal year in conservation history, especially as it relates to privately-initated, rather than solely, public action. That summer, a new organization, the Trustees of (Public) Reservations would incorporate in Massachusetts. Inspired, in large part, by the thinking of landscape architect Thomas Eliot, Brewer argues that the Trustees’ creation marks the origin of the now remarkably robust land trust movement in the United States. In addition to landscape preservation, the Trustees’ charter also emphasized public access, another important feature. Within 10 years, the Trustees owned some 430 acres spread across 6 sites.

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View of carriage path at World’s End in Hingham.

Today, one of the Trustees best-known sites is World’s End, located in Hingham, Massachusetts, about 15 miles southeast of Boston. Shaped by retreating glaciers, the striking landscape, which several “drumlins” (glacial hills) hosts roughly 70,000 visitors a year. Despite its longtime popularity, World’s End took a rather circuitous route to protected area status. In the late 19th-century, the lands’ owner commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted to design a residential subdivision with over 150 lots. Work on the carriage paths (now serving as walking paths for visitors) and some tree plantings was completed, but no homes ever took shape, leaving the land largely in agricultural use.

In the aftermath of World War II, the site was one of many considered as a possible location for the newly formed United Nations. Two decades later, in 1965, World’s End faced perhaps its most serious threat, the possible siting of a nuclear power plant by  Boston Edison. A major fundraising effort to buy the land soon coalesced, with private donations matching the monies from the Trustees with the end result of acquisition in 1947.

The Trustees manage other properties near World’s End including the 700-acre Whitney and Thayer Woods and the 80-acre Weir River Farm. In 1996, World’s End became part of the NPS’ Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, though it is still managed by the Trustees.

 

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Energy and Natural Resources Bill Introduced in Senate

By Eleanor Mahoney July 28, 2017
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Senators Maria Cantwell (at left) and Lisa Murkowski are co-sponsoring the sprawling SB 1460. Credit:Murkowski.Senate.Gov

At close to 900 pages, Senate Bill 1460 is far from light reading. Introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the legislation covers a huge number of topics ranging from infrastructure to federal lands management to energy efficiency and more. It is a rare bi-partisan effort that builds on the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, which passed the Senate before falling short of votes in a conference with the House.

The bill includes significant provisions related to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Historic Preservation Fund (permanent re-authorization), the National Park System (including the designation of new Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Heritage Areas and the creation of a federal African American Civil Rights Network Program) and the U.S. Forest Service (including wilderness designations and expansions).

It has drawn criticism from some environmental, health and community organizations for its promotion of fossil fuel extraction and use. An opposition letter signed by more than 350 national, statewide and local groups reads, in part, “No energy legislation is better than bad energy legislation that serves to increase our dependence on dirty fossil fuel production instead of building on successful policies to expand clean energy sources… We find it astounding that any energy bill could contain a ‘Renewables’ subtitle but not include provisions on solar and wind energy.”

Other groups, including the Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation, have not come out in opposition however, as covered in the story, “Democrats Caught in Green Crossfire Over Senate Energy Bill,”featured in the Bloomberg News, Daily Environment Report,”

This is a complex piece of legislation. It, at once, brings new support to items like the LWCF and historic preservation, while also streamlining the permitting process for natural gas exploration and fracking among many other elements. With so many implications, the bill would likely garner much more coverage if not for the rather turbulent current political climate. Take a look at this proposal as it does have a chance of passing, especially given its bi-partisan origins and current lack of public opposition from many Democrats.

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s in a (Public Lands) Name?

By Eleanor Mahoney April 27, 2017
Agricultural land, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve

Agricultural land, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve

Public lands in the United States go by a variety of names: Parks, forests, monuments, historical parks, recreation areas, seashores, refuges and more. Though confusing to the public (and even, at times, to agency employees!), each appellation has a “genealogy” of sorts, a history that, if traced, offers insights into the goals and motivations of those who initially pushed for the creation of different types of protected areas. I recently visited two of the three “National Reserves,” Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve in Washington State and the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve and began to wonder when that term first came into use (NB: Both are Affiliated Areas, not National Park units)

Congress designated both National Reserves in 1978. They were included in the landmark National Parks and Recreation Act, a gigantic public lands omnibus bill put together, in large part, by Congressman Phillip Burton (D-CA). Among other items, the legislation created more than a dozen new NPS units, authorized new additions to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System and expanded wilderness areas in National Parks by close to 2 million acres.

These were heady times in the park service – as least as far as park creation goes – but it was also a moment that would soon pass, probably faster than anyone could have guessed. Within only a few years, Ronald Reagan would be elected President, bringing a new era of uncertainty and austerity to conservation practice.

But, back to 1978. Where did the bill drafters even get the idea to use the term “National Reserve?” One primary source was the NPS’ April 1976 Revised Land Acquisition Policy. In this document, the term “National Reserve,” also identified as an “Area of National Concern,” is defined in the following way: Federal, State, and local governments form a special partnership around an area to be protected. Planning, implementation and maintenance is a joint effort and is based on a mutual desire to protect the resource. Under this concept, the Federal Government, through the National Park Service, may acquire core zones intended to protect and permit appropriate use of the most vital physical resources within authorized boundaries of the area. The balance of property within these areas may be protected through a combination of acquisition and management by the State and local governments, and the development of zoning or similar controls acceptable to the Secretary of the Interior. 

If this sounds innovative, it was! The 1970s were a period of experimentation in land use, especially around the idea of regional planning and partnerships. In fact, in 1971, the newly formed Council on Environmental Quality issued a report on the trends, going so far as to label them a “Quiet Revolution.” The term “Areas of National Concern,” has its roots, at least in part, in attempts to pass National Land Use legislation between 1970 and 1975. Ultimately unsuccessful, a key part of the effort had been to identity regions or landscapes necessitating additional attention from state and federal agencies, i.e. Areas of National Concern.

The idea of creating National Reserves caught on – in fact, an attempt was even made in Congress to create a whole system of reserves. Spearheaded by members of the New Jersey delegation, the bill never gained significant support.

Once the idea of a system of reserves lost momentum, individual members began to work to designate reserves in their home districts. Existing efforts in Washington State (Ebey’s) and New Jersey (the Pinelands) fit the description contained in the 1976 park service policy language, especially in regards to proposed partnerships Though radically different in size, resources, and eventual administrative structure, both efforts shared key traits: mixed types of land ownership, rapidly growing populations and long-standing resource uses (ex. agriculture) that many residents wanted to see carried forward into the future. Significantly, management in each of the reserves is quite distinctive – a sign that local input went into the planning and implementation process.

Do you know more the history of “Reserves.” Please share in the comments!

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Featured Voice: Emily Bateson

By Eleanor Mahoney April 27, 2017

Emily M. Bateson is the Coordinator for the Network for Landscape Conservation. Before becoming Coordinator, Emily was the Network Co-Chair, and helped move the collaborative from its early formative stages to a more established, funded, and widespread network with active strategies and specific programs to help advance conservation at the landscape scale.

LLO: How did you become interested in the field of landscape conservation?

Morning in the Adirondacks. Credit: Thomas Cooper

Morning in the Adirondack Mountains, New York State. Credit: Thomas Cooper

Bateson: For me, landscape conservation is much more a matter of logical continuum rather than one recent “ah-ha” moment.

I spent my childhood summers in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States. Protected under the New York State Constitution as “Forever Wild,” about half of the land within the six million-acre “Blue Line” is actually private land and populated hamlets, and the objective is management that sustains both natural and human communities. Founded in 1892, the Adirondack Park is one of the earliest examples of landscape conservation and management in the U.S.

My environmental career started at the New England-based Conservation Law Foundation, where we had a long battle in the 1980s, in and out of the courts, to keep offshore oil drilling out of the Georges Bank fishery off the coast of New England and Canada. I worked with diverse experts and stakeholders, including scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, local fishermen’s associations in New Bedford and Gloucester, MA, recreational interests on Cape Cod and the islands, and our Canadian counterparts to stop the drilling from going forward. This trans-border marine ecosystem was highly valuable ecologically, economically, and culturally, and needed to be managed as an integrated system – all the elements of landscape conservation today. That was when I learned to appreciate the critical need to work at the ecosystem scale, connecting sound science and local communities to environmental planning and policy.

Adirondack Mountain Lake. Credit: Thomas Cooper

Adirondack Mountain Lake. Credit: Thomas Cooper

As I moved on to land-focused New England projects and positions, I cannot think of a single example where working across whole landscapes was not fundamental to long-term success. At CLF, where I was Land Project Director for 16 years, we appealed a 1986 Management Plan for the White Mountain National Forest that looked at biodiversity piecemeal rather than across the whole Forest or across the whole region. Large-scale biodiversity protection was ecologically vital but not common practice at that time (and our appeal was actually before the word “biodiversity” was in use). As a funder at Sweet Water Trust in the 1990s, we worked to help people in New England protect larger and more connected areas based on biodiversity values – key components of landscape conservation and resilience today.

I then co-founded and served as the first director of Two Countries, One Forest, an early landscape conservation initiative founded in 2003 to help connect and protect the 80 million-acre Northern Appalachian/Acadian region in the eastern US and Canada – particularly through conservation of nine key habitat connectivity areas (work that continues to this day through its Staying Connected Initiative).

That initiative broke a “green ceiling,” since U.S. conservation maps (and associated conservation activity) had previously just shown white space above Maine. But the fundamental difference between political and ecological boundaries, the importance of ecological science to conservation planning, and the difference between top-down and collaborative conservation was already clear to me and to many, many others who had worked in conservation for the past 20 years.

LLO: How does landscape conservation differ from other approaches to the protection of places with cultural and ecological significance?

Bateson: The U.S. has a remarkable conservation legacy and impressive ongoing programs and progress. However, the loss of our natural and cultural heritage continues to occur at an alarming rate. The fact is that current programs and traditional, piecemeal conservation is simply no match for the ecosystem scale of the challenges confronting us today. Habitat loss and fragmentation, water scarcity and degradation, climate change impacts, and more threaten the integrated systems upon which human and natural communities depend.

We know today that even our largest protected areas are not big enough or connected enough to protect our ecological and cultural heritage. Conservation at the landscape scale is the practice of people working together – horizontally, not top down – across sectors, cultures, and geographies at the necessary ecosystem scale to conserve and connect our natural and cultural landscapes. This highly collaborative conservation approach embraces the complexity of working across these boundaries, from the urban and suburban environs to our wildest places, and across the public-private land continuum.

Today, more and more people across the country, continent, and the globe are advancing a landscape approach, working together to conserve their local landscapes for clean water, healthy outdoor recreation, climate resilience, sustainable local economies, connected wildlife habitat, cultural heritage, and local sense of place for the generations that follow.

We are erasing the hard lines between protected “versus” populated, and nature “versus” people. The landscape conservation approach recognizes that our natural and cultural landscapes are invaluable, intertwined, irreplaceable, and part of the very fabric of our society.

LLO: Could you provide some examples of how landscape conservation works – what do these types of initiatives look like on the ground and how might they differ based on location and community needs?

Bateson: Although many of the older landscape conservation efforts are regulatory in origin (such as the Adirondack State Park and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency) many of the new landscape conservation initiatives are community-grounded, informal efforts. Many of these initiatives are also “nested,” so that an initiative focused on one culturally and geographic appropriate landscape is also part of a larger effort. And a good number have support from the growing number of state and federal programs that recognize achieving regulatory mandates must include support of conservation beyond public land boundaries.

For example: in central Massachusetts, the 500,000-acre North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership, founded in 1997, focuses on conserving “ecologically, historically, and culturally significant lands.” Local municipal leaders, land owners, land trusts, agencies, conservation organizations, and academic partners work together on key activities, including mapping conservation and climate resilience priorities, expanding trail systems, promoting agricultural sustainability, improving conservation zoning, and developing a land acquisition transaction costs regrant program. Together, partners have conserved more than 12,000 acres of high priority lands, attracting far more in federal funding and making a far greater contribution to the future of the region than they ever could have alone.

Although this may appear small in scale to some, the North Quabbin Initiative is also the southern anchor of the equally effective two million-acre Quabbin to Cardigan Partnership that stretches up into the White Mountains of NH. And these two efforts are also part of a larger Network of 45 landscape conservation initiatives or “regional conservation partnerships” that together cover more than 70 percent of New England and increasingly learn from each other and work together on shared regional goals. This scale and structure fit the geography and culture of New England.

In the intermountain west, the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana focuses on conserving the 1.5 million-acre Blackfoot watershed (“Better Rural Communities through Cooperative Conservation Action”). Although the focus may be more on rangelands than the forests and agricultural lands around the North Quabbin, this group is similarly focused on watershed protection and has also had notable success through consensus-based and community-grounded collaborative conservation. They are also nested in larger efforts, including the 18 million-acre Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent and the 2,000-mile long Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative. As Executive Director Gary Burnett stated in a recent presentation, “But our watershed is a small place, and we need our neighbors – right across the fence and clear across the county – to sustain our local work and bring it to scale for people, water and wildlife.”

Are there differences across landscape conservation initiatives? Yes, context matters. And despite the similarities between North Quabbin and the Blackfoot Challenge, groups choose different governance structures, conservation priorities, and approaches. For example, The Intertwine Alliance, more than 150 public, private and nonprofit organizations working to integrate nature more deeply into the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan region, is wrestling with higher density populations, local urban-specific priorities, and smaller scales than the Blackfoot Challenge. Their strategies and solutions may not look identical.

But I would suggest that there are more similarities than differences. Landscape conservation initiatives are working to achieve conservation that is both locally grounded and regionally significant. They are working, by and large, to look at conservation more expansively to include culture, community, traditional local economics, health, recreation, and local sense of place, while never losing sight of the long-term importance of healthy, connected natural systems for the future of their own landscapes and the world overall. Landscape conservation helps put the future back into the hands of informed and committed people living and working on the landscapes they love.

LLO: What are the biggest challenges as well as opportunities right now in the field of landscape conservation and how might the roles of public vs. non-governmental entities be changing in the coming years?

Bateson: Regardless of geography and scale, initiatives often share similar challenges regarding 1) meaningful collaboration and effective governance; 2) conservation science and planning at the local-to-landscape scales; and 3) funding for and commitment to long-term collaboration and conservation implementation.

One major challenge has been that there was no central place for sharing information, identifying best practices, tackling common challenges, and developing cutting edge research and analysis in this new field. That of course is what we are trying to change through the Network for Landscape Conservation.

Although I hope I am wrong, I think the current federal administration may be a challenge, which is too bad as conservation has been a robust bipartisan issue for many years. And recent Republican and Democratic administrations have made so much progress on moving toward a landscape conservation approach at the federal agency level, from the National Park Service Scaling Up program to the Landscape Conservation Collaborative Network and much, much more.

Despite the challenges, there are boundless opportunities in this rapidly growing field. We have enormous forward momentum in specific landscapes, and an increasing number of examples of effective initiatives and enduring success. Conservation at the landscape scale is increasingly embraced in local and regional landscapes across the country, continent, and beyond. It is the groundswell of local understanding and support that will carry this imperative conservation approach inexorably forward.

LLO: Your organization recently changed its name from the Practitioners’ Network for Large Landscape Conservation to the Network for Landscape Conservation. Does this reflect a shift in its mission or area of emphasis?

Bateson: The Network has only shortened its name, and not changed its mission. We decided it was evident we are a network for “practitioners,” and we dropped the “large” because many people thought it suggested only large, wild landscapes and not the equally valuable efforts in urban or other smaller-scale settings.

Founded in 2011, the goal of the Network continues to be building a “big tent” network and a robust community of practice to support and advance the rapidly growing landscape conservation movement. Before the Network, there was no central forum for landscape conservation practitioners to connect – there was too much reinventing of the proverbial wheel and opportunities for progress and innovation were being lost. Our Network of professionals in the private, public, non-profit, academic, and philanthropic sectors has already grown to almost 100 organizational partners and 2,000 individual practitioners.

We work with partners to build a valued nexus for connecting with peers, accessing information and resources, building skills, leveraging individual efforts, improving on-the-ground performance, and innovating new landscape conservation. One of our highest priorities continues to be connecting practitioners to each other and showcasing their work for the broader community.
We are all figuring out this pivotal, new landscape conservation approach together. I hope individuals and organizations will continue to join the Network for Landscape Conservation to help build the conversation and the community of practice, shaping the future of the local and global landscapes that will sustain our grandchildren and the many generations to follow.

Learn more: Network for Landscape Conservation : Advancing the Practice of Conservation at the Landscape Scale 

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Examining Federal Land Acquisition Practices After World War II

By Eleanor Mahoney March 30, 2017
View of Big Cypress National Preserve. Photo by National Park Service.

View of Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. Photo by National Park Service.

In the decades after World War II, the Federal government significantly altered its approach to land acquisition for parks, forests and other protected areas. Before this period, Congress rarely appropriated funds for the purchase of private property. Instead, protected areas were either carved out the public domain (which has much of its origins in Indigenous dispossession) or created through donation. Condemnation also occurred, though at times states, with federal urging, took the lead as in 1920s/1930s era National Parks in Appalachia.

The push for open space and recreation opportunities near urban areas as well as the passage of landmark legislation like the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (1964) meant there was both an increased demand for and funds available to support an unprecedented level of land acquisition. Yet, the results of this new approach proved, in many cases, to be far from ideal. Agencies frequently acquired lands in a haphazard fashion and less-than-fee options garnered little interest or enthusiasm. Residents and landowners whose property fell within protected area boundaries became confused and angry along the way, feeling betrayed by a process that was far from transparent.

In 1979, the Government Accountability Office looked at the issue of federal land acquisition in the 1960s and 1970s in a report entitled The Federal drive to acquire private lands should be reassessed  (available via the Hathi Trust website, a free online archive worth searching if you haven’t already). This document, which includes analysis of sites like Big Cypress National Preserve and Lower St. Croix National Scenic River, provides an in-depth commentary and analysis of acquisition by land management agencies as well as agency responses and should be interesting reading for those involved – past, present and future – in adding lands to the federal portfolio.

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1981 and 2017: What Can We Learn?

By Eleanor Mahoney January 30, 2017
Secretary of Interior James Watt (at left) and President Ronald Reagan in 1982. Watt, a longtime critic of federal land management policies, was among Reagan's more controversial cabinet picks. Photo by Mary Anne Feckelman, The White House. Image from www.usbr.gov.

Secretary of Interior James Watt (at left) and President Ronald Reagan in 1982. Watt, a longtime critic of federal land management policies, was among Reagan’s more controversial cabinet picks. Photo by Mary Anne Feckelman, The White House. Image from www.usbr.gov.

Despite the fact that I am a historian, I never really liked the adage that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” a phrase attributed to novelist and philosopher George Santayana. It is not that I believe history cannot inform the present – far from it – but rather that the notion of ‘repetition’ denies contemporary actors agency in their decision-making and disregards the incredibly contingent nature of so much of human life. The past is certainly there as a guide, resource, and yes, even a warning, but it is not a template.

When I started writing this blog post, I could not have imagined what the last seven days would bring. My goal was to look back at the early days of the Reagan administration, when, after two decades of unprecedented action on the environment, a President and a Secretary of the Interior (among other appointees) were in place who vowed to undo much of the legacy of the 1960s and 1970s (ex. the Wilderness Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Endangered Species Act, etc) Those who had worked countless hours to put these policies in place, as well as the millions who benefitted from them, were understandably apprehensive – as well as angry. Would the undeniable improvements in air and water quality as well as the (limited) progress on regulating chemicals and other hazardous substances be halted and then reversed?

In the end, the answer was both yes and no. During the 1980s, the development and enforcement of environmental regulations did slow tremendously. Support for resource extraction, including logging and mining increased, with irreversible consequences. A new “uncertainty” about science gained traction with repercussions that have been disastrous for action on climate change. Yet, during the 1980s, other trends also emerged. Mainstream environmental groups grew in membership and sophistication, especially in the legal arena. Government employees leaked documents, served as whistleblowers and engaged in important research and public outreach. The environmental justice (EJ) movement also gained tremendous traction by calling attention to the ways in which exposure to environmental contaminants as well as access to what might be termed environmental benefits (clean air, water, open space, recreation facilities, etc) had been undeniably shaped by race, class and ethnicity. The work of EJ advocates was especially significant because it revealed the inequities not only of federal policies, but also of traditional environmental organizations, which were overwhelmingly white and middle and upper-class.1

At present, we find ourselves in worrisome and, for many, perilous times. In a whole host of areas, civil liberties, healthcare, foreign policy and education, the future is, at best, uncertain. In regards to the environment, angst over what potential cabinet nominees could mean for climate change policy, the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, public lands management and pollution control regulation (among other issues) is palpable among those concerned with the health of the planet. As I pointed out above, we can find echoes of some of these feelings in the 1980s, though, at that moment, we did not yet know how dire the climate crisis would become or how imperative immediate action on the issue would be.

What lessons can we take from that history? Public employees can be quite influential and respected. We’ve already seen that in the “Alt NPS” movement and the excitement that various “rogue” twitter accounts have generated across multiple federal agencies. Incredibly important and vital grassroots movements take shape when more mainstream politicians or organizations may be slow to act. And finally, established groups focused on environmental or civil liberties will likely grow stronger as well as their missions become even more crystalized.

There are many ways to get involved – but what is important is that we all became active participants in shaping our shared present and that we remember that the effects of government actions do not affect all equally and that vulnerable members of our communities need support. We are not condemned to repeat the past, but we can certainly learn from its lessons in order to build a more just, equitable future.

1. For more on the Reagan Administration and its environmental legacy see the following: A great recent blog post and article (scroll to the bottom for a link to the article) by Historian Jacob D. Hamblin available at https://jacobdarwinhamblin.com/2015/09/30/ronald-reagans-environmental-legacy/. Additionally, a few few length texts provide more background. These include: Hal Rothman’s The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945, Samuel Hay’s Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985 and Robert Gottlieb’s Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. .

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Looking Back at NPS Centennial Coverage

By Eleanor Mahoney November 3, 2016

comboOver the past year, we’ve been examining the National Park Service in the context of its 100th anniversary. We considered whether the NPS should expand its “brand“; looked at the history of Mission 66; evaluated the idea of certain parks being “crown jewels”; and argued for a more nuanced understanding of the NPS’ recent post World War II history. We’ve also been compiling a list of key documents and reports for thinking about the future of the agency. Here are five that are worth taking a look at as the centennial winds down.

Scaling Up – In the years leading up to the 2016 centennial, the NPS released a Call to Action, which included “Scaling Up,” or embracing a collaborative approach to large landscape to conservation, as #22. The report linked here highlights efforts already underway across the NPS system and in affiliated areas that seek to protect diverse resources through partnerships.

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service – Released in 2012 by the Organization of American Historians, the report examines the practice of history (broadly defined) in the National Park Service. This is an important issue, considering that 2/3 of NPS units are considered historic sites of one type or another, with the remaining natural parks also home to rich stories of the past. Among many important recommendations, the study suggested park units look beyond their boundaries in order to tell richer, more nuanced, multi-layered narratives.

Second Century Report – Published in 2009, the report, entitled “Advancing the National Park Idea,” was a product of a year’s worth of meetings and research conducted under the auspices of the Second Century Commission, a group of scientists, historians, business people, conservationists, educators and more convened by the National Parks Conservation Association.

Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas – Published in 2006 by the National Park System Advisory Board, Charting a Future offered one of the most detailed analyses of the NHA system-to-date. Among other recommendations, it called for research on the workings of collaborative conservation at a landscape scale.

The Vail Agenda – Published in 1992, the Vail Agenda grew out of a public meeting held in 1991 in Vail, Colorado. Intended as a forum for the consideration of the Agency’s future on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, the report’s recommendations, now a quarter of a century old, are interesting to consider in the context of the centennial.

The e-library of the NPS also has a thorough listing of key documents from the Agency’s history available to download here.

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Origins and Outcomes

By Eleanor Mahoney October 3, 2016

In researching the history of post World War II protected area management in the U.S., I’ve begun to think more and more about how the particular origins of a program or initiative can affect its ultimate ability to succeed in the long term. More specifically, I wonder if efforts that have their impetus outside the agency ultimately tasked with program management suffer as a result, especially if the initiative in question differs significantly from other agency responsibilities.

A good example of this phenomenon is the various heritage park and area programs that took shape in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. In many cases, these efforts marked a large departure from traditional approaches to park management. Park agencies did not “own” the resources (or if so, it was only a few buildings) nor did they manage the efforts independently – usually partnerships were involved. Most, though not all, of these efforts originated within local communities or with interested legislators, not among agency personnel.

As a result, and perhaps not surprisingly, disinterest or even hostility developed. With financial and staff resources scarce, why would time and money be dedicated to programs perceived (by some) as well outside an agency’s core mission? Such reactions were not universal, but they were widespread enough to pose a serious challenge – especially after community and / or legislative leaders moved on to other areas of foci. Once the pressure and attention from outside waned, innovative programs could be left in a vulnerable position. Unless staff within an agency stepped up to take the lead, monies and technical assistance withered. However, in cases where the agency personnel had been central to program creation, they often served as champions of the effort and could help sustain it through moments of fiscal austerity.

What does this all mean? I’m interested to know what others who have worked on innovative or non-traditional programs think about it. Can bureaucratic culture change? Does getting institutional buy-in make sense if doing so dilutes or weakens the approach under consideration? How can the desires of those pushing for change or new approaches outside an agency work with longtime staff and decision makers within that entity to be successful?

 

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National Heritage Areas: Learning from Thirty Years of Working to Scale

By Eleanor Mahoney August 31, 2016
View of Wilkes-Barre, PA in the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

View of Wilkes-Barre, PA in the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

In the face of challenges such as climate change and urban sprawl not to mention shrinking budgets and at-times hostile lawmakers, how can those interested in large landscape conservation ensure that their work is both effective and sustainable? In the most recent issue of The George Wright Forum, a variety of scholars and practitioners examine these types of questions, analyzing the past and present of landscape-scale work in North America. Among the efforts reviewed is the National Heritage Areas (NHA) program, a more than 30-years old initiative that now includes 49 areas stretching from New England to Alaska.

Each NHA is authorized by Congress and, though placed in the portfolio of NPS, operates with a great degree of autonomy. These are lived-in landscapes, with no federal regulatory authority linked to designation. The regions included range from vibrant cityscapes to vast rural farmland and ranches. The individual NHAs are managed by nonprofits, state and local governments, universities, or federal commissions and operate with a high degree of local control. The direct funding commitment for both program administration and project work is limited and NHAs seek support from other funding sources and partnership arrangements. Program goals include protection of natural and cultural resources, education, recreation and economic development.

Since the mid 2000s, a significant number of NHAs have been evaluated in an effort both to understand their investments and accomplishments and assess their progress relative to the goals laid out in each individual piece of authorizing legislation. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating the potential of partnership-based endeavors on areas such as historic preservation, interpretation and trail development, for example.

To learn more about key lessons from NHA work as well the history of the program and its roots in the Reagan administration, read the entire article, “National Heritage Areas: Thirty Years of Working to Scale,” here.

Thanks to The George Wright Forum for allowing us to share this piece.

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Corporate Role in Parks Recalls Earlier Era, Presents New Challenges

By Eleanor Mahoney August 1, 2016

This summer saw a flurry of articles centered on a proposed change (read the change here, Director’s Order 21) in how the National Park Service solicits and recognizes private donations, including from corporate entities. The Washington Post published a story on the issue headlined, “Yosemite, sponsored by Starbucks? National Parks to start selling some naming rights,” while the organization PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) entitled its story on the matter, “Panhandling and Pandering in our National Parks.” Clearly, the issue of corporate sponsorship arouses strong feelings among park supporters and, perhaps not surprisingly, also makes for some eye-catching headlines. But is the link between conservation and corporations actually new? And what does it reveal about deeper connections between economic change in the United States and the manner in which the country manages its public lands and historic sites?

Photo Harry Teng / Wikimedia Common

Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park. Built by the Great Northern Railway. Photo Harry Teng / Wikimedia Commons

The early history of National Parks in the late 19th and early 20th century is inseparable from the development of railroads, then one of the most influential industries in the nation. Railroad companies had benefited from a huge land giveaway during their initial construction phase and now sought to increase traffic and profits along their lines through the creation of National Park sites. Indeed, many historians argue that were not for the influence of the railroads in state capitols and in Washington, D.C. a good number of the parks widely hailed as “crown jewels” of the system, such as Yellowstone, Glacier and the Grand Canyon, would have faced greater opposition over their respective designations. Moreover, railroads financed the construction of iconic lodges in the parks as well as other infrastructure improvements. Of course, they were not the only supporters of park designation or the only beneficiaries. Early concessionaires, also private entities, played a role in promoting the creation of new units as did nearby towns and businesses. Preservationists, eager to protect natural wonders (which was a primary focus in the early period of park history), also lobbied Congress. In the majority of cases, the voices of less prominent local residents, especially Indigenous peoples, received scant attention. Overshadowed by those with more ready access to power and influence.

All this is not to say that the National Parks are a bastion of corporate America, only that their history has never been free from the influence of big business. Indeed, as most of the articles critiquing the new policy make clear, corporations have long been donors to the National Park Foundation as well as individual Friends’ groups. What might change now are the visibility and, potentially, the impact of such efforts. In this regard, National Parks are only the latest in a long line of public entities – state universities, k-12 schools, libraries, highways, local park efforts – to make more evident the longstanding influence of private individuals, nonprofits and companies on what were once considered public landscapes. All now bear the imprints and the management philosophies of non-public actors, which is not necessarily a negative. Indeed, it is important to remember that government has often played a less than benign role in perpetuating racial, class, gender, and ethnic inequities, with pressure coming from outside organizations for reform and change.

As the American state contracts and cuts discretionary funding items, like its public lands, arts and science initiatives, other bodies will fill the void. For parks, this may well become a “retro” moment of sorts, recalling the early influence of railroad financiers who played a integral role in deciding construction projects and marketing priorities. Given the enormous challenges facing not only the NPS, but also conservationists in general, the question then becomes, if not the state then who might be best to bring into partnership. Large foundations, nonprofit groups, corporations, and small individual donors are all a possibility. The new reality calls for not only vigilance on the part of those who would seek to maintain accountability and transparency, but also creativity and a renewed commitment to equity and outreach. All to ensure that public access and resource protection remain central to the Park Service mission.

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Guide to the Parks – Past, Present and Future

By Eleanor Mahoney June 30, 2016
Published in 2016, A Thinking Person's Guide to America's National Parks

Published in 2016, A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks

Last summer, I taught a college course on the History of U.S. National Parks. At the time, I lamented the relative lack of high-quality, scholarly research on recent National Park history to share with my students. Fortunately for me, when I teach the class again this spring, I will now have the book I was looking for – the recently published A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks.

Unlike many synthetic or edited volumes on National Park history, A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks not only addresses both natural and cultural resources, but also effectively makes the case that all sites in the system are, in fact, a combination of both – that humans have shaped the landscape (including in lands now labeled as protected areas!) for millennia and continue to do so in a variety of ways.

In addition, urban parks receive much needed attention, including in an article co-authored by one of the volume’s editors, Rolf Diamant, and Michael Creasy, a park superintendent with experience in urban parks. Too often park units located in and near cities get scant attention from the public and scholars, save for a few locations such as Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia or the Jeffferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. Diamant and Creasy challenge this exclusion, noting that one-third of parks are in urban areas and it is often these places that most effectively communicate the diversity of U.S. history and the complexity of the nation’s relationship to the natural world. In addition, their article contextualizes NPS involvement in cities, with a mention of the 1960’s Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission or ORRRC.

Other authors address such pressing issues as civic engagement, partnership parks and Indigenous voices, to name only a few topics. For those interested in learning more about the history of National Parks and the National Park Service as well as current and future policy concerns, this book is a must read – especially given the context of the NPS centennial and the upcoming federal elections.

A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks. Edited by Robert Manning, Rolf Diamant, Nora Mitchell and David Harmon (George Braziller Publishers: New York, 2016)

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Back to the Future for National Parks

By Eleanor Mahoney April 27, 2016
Ebey's Landing cabbage field. Photo by Mitch Richards.

Cabbage field in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Designated in 1978, Ebey’s (WA State) is one of several cooperative land management models first tried out in the 1970s. Photo by Mitch Richards.

What does the 21st century hold for the National Park system? It’s hard to say for sure, but one thing seems fairly certain, the parks of the future will look and be managed quite differently from those established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The older model of park creation, one characterized by exclusive federal government ownership is no longer tenable or, in many ways, desirable. Indeed, it has been called into question both by environmentalists, who doubt its ability to protect large and fragile ecosystems, and by Indigenous peoples, who are rightly demanding restitution and the eventual return of ancestral and sacred lands illegally and often violently seized. Advocates of private property rights are also seeking to exert their influence, lobbying elected officials to limit the creation of new protected areas and shrink the boundaries of many existing sites.

In addition to the critiques outlined above, the National Park System is suffering from years of stagnant budgets and waning interest among younger visitors. In an era of government austerity and at-times hostile public perception, how might those committed to the idea of National Parks respond to such an unprecedented set of challenges? Will the National Park Service, celebrating its centennial in 2016, adapt and survive, or will it gradually fade away, a nostalgic relic from a by-gone era?

Cranberry Bog Pinelands National Reserve. Credit: John Bunnel Pinelands Commission

Cranberry Bog, Pinelands National Reserve. Designated the same year as Ebey’s Landing, the Pinelands offers another model for cooperative land management. Credit: John Bunnel, Pinelands Commission

In considering these questions, it might be wise to look back a few decades at a period when the United States likewise confronted economic dislocation, national security concerns and political polarization – the 1970s. The era that brought us stagflation, Watergate and a succession of oil crises, also produced a series of innovations and attempted innovations in protected area management that are without parallel in post World War II American history. Not only were an unprecedented number of non-traditional parks created at the local, state and federal levels, but attempts to pass a National Land Use Policy garnered significant support in Congress. A new agency, the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, briefly flourished within the Department of the Interior, and a heightened emphasis on recreation in urban areas gained traction throughout the decade, before ultimately falling out of favor during the Reagan administration. Indeed, when looking for sources of inspiration for contemporary conservation policy, a back-to-the-future approach might yield unexpectedly beneficial results.

What truly sets the 1970s apart was the willingness of some National Park advocates to acknowledge and even celebrate the connection of people and place. Instead of denying or hiding the human impacts on a landscape, as had so often been the case with earlier park designations, many protected areas created during the decade deliberately highlighted the influence humans had exerted on the world around them. No longer were parks simply far away lands, reserved for the wealthy few. Instead, they could be anywhere and everywhere, even in far from “pristine” settings, such as cities suffering from de-industrialization or rapidly developing suburbs and coastal areas. Creating a park also did not mean that longtime residents had to be displaced — although this did, in fact, continue to occur in some instances. Preserving a site’s unique ecology could complement the protection of its history and culture and vice-versa; indeed the two often proved inseparable.

 

Fishpond at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. Also designated in the 1970s management of the complex and living cultural site led to crisis and disagreement between many local residents and the NPS.

Fishpond at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. Photo by NPS. Also designated in the 1970s management of the complex and living cultural site led to crisis and disagreement between many local residents, including Native Hawaiians, and the NPS.

Did 1970s-era protected areas always “work” according to the visions of their planners? No. Were community members always happy with the results? No. Indeed, in some cases, it seems safe to say that local residents deeply regretted ever inviting the NPS and other federal partners to the table. These failures, as well as the successes of the 1970s, need to be systematically assessed in a way that goes beyond the platitudes of merely naming them as “partnership” parks. Investigators need to dig deep and truly understand the diverse reasons why non-traditional efforts at landscape conservation gain or loose support. The lessons learned from such studies could, in turn, be vital to informing future efforts, especially those aimed at protecting large landscapes. (Park administrative histories, many wonderfully researched and written, provide a great starting point. The next step would be a comparison across sites to compare findings).

National Parks still hold a special place in the American imagination, but that position is in serious jeopardy. In order to remain relevant, the National Park Service and its supporters must adapt, embracing new and novel modes of conservation, while also sincerely acknowledging past missteps. Though certainly difficult, the task is far from impossible, especially given the fact that a road map, drafted at a time when the Ford Pinto ruled the highways and the bell bottom the runway, already exists. Briefly: Be collaborative. Recognize that all landscapes, whether the northern reaches of Alaska or the streets of New York City, are shaped by the interaction of people and place. And finally, think outside the box, with an eye towards inviting diverse and, yes, even critical partners to the table. The end result, a relevant and revitalized National Park system, will be well worth the trouble.

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Anniversary of the NPS: Building on a Legacy?

By Eleanor Mahoney February 21, 2016
Rangers and visitors  celebrate the National Park Service Centennial and Find Your Park.

Rangers and visitors celebrate the National Park Service Centennial and Find Your Park.

This post  first ran in our September 2015 newsletter, as NPS and Anniversaries. We are re-printing it now in an effort to spark conversation not only about the NPS centennial, but also the legacy of the Obama Presidency and National Parks more generally. After almost 8 years, what do you see as the primary imprint of the Administration on the National Park System and other public lands? Will the President’s expansive use of the Antiquities Act, which has resulted in the protection of more than 260 million acres of America’s lands and waters, be remembered as advancing the large landscape approach to conservation policy? The Administration has also focused on telling the stories of underrepresented communities, for example the recent designation of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument,  Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, and the Pullman National Monument.  In recent years the NPS has led efforts to tell the history of all Americans by exploring American Latino heritage and Asian American Pacific Islander heritage, Women’s history, and LGBTQ history. For the celebration of its Centennial year  NPS has  committed to making the national park system more diverse and relevant and its narratives more inclusive. Will these initiatives change the long term culture of the agency and how it is perceived by diverse communities? Share your thoughts on all these topics as well as ideas for what the next Administration should emphasize.

NPS and Anniversaries

In 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary. If you work for or with the NPS, this is probably old news. However, for those outside of conservation and preservation circles, the information may well come as a surprise. Coverage of the upcoming NPS centennial in popular media has been relatively scarce, with prominent sources like the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, for example, devoting little coverage to the Agency’s plans for the upcoming year. What, if anything, does this relative lack of attention reveal about the current and future state of the NPS as well as its many affiliated programs and partnerships?

Fifty years ago, the NPS found itself in a radically different position – at least insofar as the media was concerned. As the country’s population exploded and as discretionary income and vacation time grew for many, though far from all, Americans, public lands, including National Parks, experienced an unprecedented surge in usage. At the same time, however, funding remained flat, resulting in overcrowded and even dangerous conditions at many sites. Popular magazines such as Life and Readers Digest published exposes on the subject. Among the most famous was a 1953 piece in Harpers by columnist Bernard DeVoto entitled “Let’s Close the National Parks.” In it, he critiqued both the entitled attitudes of many park visitors as well as the insufficient support provided by Congress.

The article and others like it generated substantial interest in the future of recreation and land use, especially as it related to the park service. Within a few years time, the Agency would finally succeed in gaining the attention of decision makers in Washington, D.C., who approved a decade-long, multi-million dollar spending program dubbed Mission 66, which aimed to “modernize” the parks in time for the NPS’ 50th anniversary in 1966. The initiative received substantial attention in the press, with numerous articles in local and national publications highlighting efforts big and small.

In the end, Mission 66 fundamentally re-oriented the way visitors experienced NPS units, whether through the addition of new front country amenities, the building of enlarged visitor centers or the construction of new roadways to previously inaccessible areas. These projects and others proved controversial, with many scholars crediting Mission 66 as a factor driving support for passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 as well as a push against commercialization in NPS units.

Roughly a month ago, on September 1, 2015, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the Obama Administration’s legislative proposal for the upcoming NPS centennial. Dubbed the National Park Service Centennial Act, the bill focuses particular attention on the creation of a Challenge Fund, which would use both private and public monies to support “signature projects.” In addition, a separate, smaller Public Lands Centennial Fund would also be established, which would provide up to $100 million annually to not only the NPS, but also other federal land or water management agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service. Attention in the bill is also focused on youth outreach, volunteers in parks, interpretation and visitor services. But, what is the big picture or vision behind this initiative? It’s hard to tell. What does the Agency want to become over the next 50 or 100 years? For all its shortcomings, which were myriad, Mission 66 captured the public’s (albeit a select public of park goers) imagination. Will this effort do the same? Are public-private partnerships the answer to the NPS’ chronic under-funding? Do new approaches to large landscape management need to get more attention? What do you think?

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Revealing a Lost Landscape

By Eleanor Mahoney October 23, 2015

For over a decade, an inter-disciplinary group of scholars, professionals and community members have been working together to create and sustain the Waterlines Project – a history of Seattle told through its shorelines. By documenting the human and natural forces that have shaped these landscapes, the project seeks to inform not only interpretations of the past, but also contemporary urban development decisions. Links to many of the project’s innovative maps are available here. You can also watch a digital animation of the area that is now the neighborhood of Pioneer Square being transformed over the course of several hundred years.

A detailed map of the Indigenous histories of the landscape is available here.

For more information on the Waterlines Project, read this blog post “Seattle’s Ghost Shorelines.”

Also, this summer, as part of the Duwamish Revealed project, Waterlines Project team member Amir Sheikh worked in collaboration with civil engineer Zachary Corum, to support artist Frances Nelson in the creation of a large-scale installation called “Meanders.”

Meanders is an interpretation of one of the old meanders of the Duwamish River that ran through what is now South Seattle College’s Georgetown campus in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. The site was the location of the King County Poor Farm and the area of initial dredging and filling along the Duwamish River in 1913. This installation literally “reveals” the history of the river beneath your feet at the site. Learn more about how this effort – both the mapping and research and the artistic interpretation – here.

Special thanks to Amir Sheikh for information on the Waterlines and Duwamish Revealed Projects.

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NPS and Anniversaries

By Eleanor Mahoney September 30, 2015

In 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary. If you work for or with the NPS, this is probably old news. However, for those outside of conservation and preservation circles, the information may well come as a surprise. Coverage of the upcoming NPS centennial in popular media has been relatively scarce, with prominent sources like the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, for example, devoting little coverage to the Agency’s plans for the upcoming year. What, if anything, does this relative lack of attention reveal about the current and future state of the NPS as well as its many affiliated programs and partnerships?

Fifty years ago, the NPS found itself in a radically different position – at least insofar as the media was concerned. As the country’s population exploded and as discretionary income and vacation time grew for many, though far from all, Americans, public lands, including National Parks, experienced an unprecedented surge in usage. At the same time, however, funding remained flat, resulting in overcrowded and even dangerous conditions at many sites. Popular magazines such as Life and Readers Digest published exposes on the subject. Among the most famous was a 1953 piece in Harpers by columnist Bernard DeVoto entitled “Let’s Close the National Parks.” In it, he critiqued both the entitled attitudes of many park visitors as well as the insufficient support provided by Congress.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.55.51 AM

Road building in Yellowstone. Image: NPS

The article and others like it generated substantial interest in the future of recreation and land use, especially as it related to the park service. Within a few years time, the Agency would finally succeed in gaining the attention of decision makers in Washington, D.C., who approved a decade-long, multi-million dollar spending program dubbed Mission 66, which aimed to “modernize” the parks in time for the NPS’ 50th anniversary in 1966. The initiative received substantial attention in the press, with numerous articles in local and national publications highlighting efforts big and small.

In the end, Mission 66 fundamentally re-oriented the way visitors experienced NPS units, whether through the addition of new front country amenities, the building of enlarged visitor centers or the construction of new roadways to previously inaccessible areas. These projects and others proved controversial, with many scholars crediting Mission 66 as a factor driving support for passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 as well as a push against commercialization in NPS units.

Roughly a month ago, on September 1, 2015, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the Obama Administration’s legislative proposal for the upcoming NPS centennial. Dubbed the National Park Service Centennial Act, the bill focuses particular attention on the creation of a Challenge Fund, which would use both private and public monies to support “signature projects.” In addition, a separate, smaller Public Lands Centennial Fund would also be established, which would provide up to $100 million annually to not only the NPS, but also other federal land or water management agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service. Attention in the bill is also focused on youth outreach, volunteers in parks, interpretation and visitor services. But, what is the big picture or vision behind this initiative? It’s hard to tell. What does the Agency want to become over the next 50 or 100 years? For all its shortcomings, which were myriad, Mission 66 captured the public’s (albeit a select public of park goers) imagination. Will this effort do the same? Are public-private partnerships the answer to the NPS’ chronic under-funding? Do new approaches to large landscape management need to get more attention? What do you think?

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Half-century Legacy of LWCF at Risk

By Eleanor Mahoney August 31, 2015
President Johnson signing the the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act in 1964. Photo: National Park Service

President Johnson signing the the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act in 1964. Photo: National Park Service

This year marked the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, an occasion first celebrated in 1970. It also marked the 45th anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA as well as the 45th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the government body most widely associated with monitoring and enforcing regulations governing air and water quality as well as pollution and its effects. It is not surprising then, that the 1970s are often known as the environmental decade and that the years of the Nixon presidency (1969-1974) are usually those most often associated with the implementation of an environmental agenda, especially at the federal level.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Nixon’s predecessor in the oval office, also had a robust conservation vision, driven, in large part, by his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, as well as his influential Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. Many National Seashores and Lakeshores, like Indiana Dunes, Point Reyes and Fire Island, gained designation during the Johnson Administration as did National Parks such as Canyonlands and North Cascades. Beautification initiatives also gained widespread support, including the famous highway clean-up / planting efforts of the First Lady.

Additionally, the role of non-governmental organizations shifted greatly during this period. NGOs expanded their influence and reach, as advocates challenged the public sector on many of its policies, especially in the realms of water management (ex. dam building in the western U.S.) and regulation of industry and industrial contaminants. Passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 is perhaps the best known instance of the increasing influence of citizen-driven conservation and environmental initiatives.

As the deadline for re-authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grows ever closer, it is worth considering just how groundbreaking the original piece of legislation really was – since its now 51-year history perhaps leads us to take its historical significance for granted. At the time of the Fund’s establishment, however, members of the Johnson administration knew its importance. For example, in a 1966 memo on achievements in the areas of conservation and natural beauty sent from Secretary Udall to Joseph Califano, Special Assistant to the President, Udall commented on the LWCF Act:

“This legislation has set in motion a comprehensive and far-reaching outdoor recreation program by the States and the Federal Government, which will reap tremendous recreational benefits for all Americans. It constitutes a landmark in the outdoor recreation and conservation fields. It will provide much needed funds for the States, on a matching basis, and for the Federal Government, for outdoor recreation and endangered species of fish and wildlife.” (1)

Before the early 1960s, the federal government played a very limited role in funding land conservation outside of federally owned lands, which were predominately west of the Mississippi River. Providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, especially in areas close to urban centers, was left largely in the hands of state and local government, entities that often struggled to find adequate resources. LWCF, along with an Urban Open Space Program funded by the Housing and Home Finance Agency (later HUD), created an entirely new pool of funds for the protection of landscapes significant for their ecological and cultural values (which were, of course, often tied together).

These programs were not perfect. Urban areas, in particular, continued to receive proportionately less funds over time, though some efforts have been made to address this imbalance. Additionally, the LWCF’s chief funding source, royalties from off shore drilling, is ironic at best, especially given the ever more dramatic effects of climate change on the planet. The pursuit of other revenue sources must be prioritized moving forward.

Nonetheless, the achievements of the LWCF are impressive, over 5 million acres of federal land protected and over 40,000 projects supported on the state side of funding, just to name a few of the more notable statistics. With one month to go before funding expires, it is time for Congress to act to ensure that this “comprehensive and far-reaching outdoor recreation program” to quote Stewart Udall continues to play a key role in conservation for at least another half-century.

Footnotes

1. WHITE HOUSE CENTRAL FILES, SUBJECT FILE: Memo, Stewart Udall to Joseph Califano, 2/9/66, Ex NR, Box 5, WHCF, LBJ Library.

 

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New Monuments, Old Debates

By Eleanor Mahoney July 29, 2015
President Obama signs an Executive Order creating three new National Monuments.

President Obama signs an Executive Order creating three new National Monuments. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

On July 10, 2015, President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate three new National Monuments – Berryessa Snow Mountain in California, Waco Mammoth in Texas, and Basin and Range in Nevada. With these new designations, the President will have used the Antiquities Act to establish or expand 19 national monuments. First used by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act remains one of the most important – and most controversial – tools by which the Executive Branch can take immediate action on pressing conservation and preservation priorities.

Between 1864 (the creation of Yosemite) and 1906, the number of National Parks in the United States grew at what might fairly be called a snail’s pace (1). Over roughly half-a-century, Congress only saw fit to designate a handful of sites, leaving some of the country’s most iconic locations open to either natural resource or commercial development.

At the same time that the National Park idea languished, the National Forest System (then called Forest Reserves) grew rapidly. Indeed, in a little less than two decades time, 1891 to 1907, the federal government created more than 150 new forest reserves, covering some 150 million acres of land. A variety of factors led to the divergence in the fates of forests and parks, but one of the most significant proved to be the legal authorities governing each system. Until 1907 (when Congress repealed the authority), Forest Reserves could be created by Presidential action, a power granted to the Executive by the 1891 General Revision Act (sometimes referred to as the Forest Reserves Act after the specific amendment granting the Presidential authority). This opened the door to a slew of designations, supported by both a growing cadre of professional foresters, led by Gifford Pinchot, as well as much of the general public, who had grown increasingly concerned over the threat of a “timber famine” in the forests of the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

In contrast, there was no similar authority available to establish park units from the public domain or from donated land. Instead, Congress had to pass a bill to create a new park, a far more arduous process. This all changed in 1906 during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. Concerned about the ongoing and largely unchecked destruction of sites associated with the histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples (including the theft and sale of ceremonial items and other materials to all manner of “collectors” both in the U.S. and abroad), Congress passed the Antiquities Act, which gave the President the ability to quickly set aside lands with significant natural, cultural or scientific features. Significantly, however, Indigenous peoples themselves were not consulted on the majority of the monument designations that flowed from the Act’s passage.

Almost immediately after the bill became law, Roosevelt took action. Rather than focus solely on the protection of archaeological sites, as perhaps some members of Congress had assumed he might, the President used his new authority to designate a diverse array of public lands as National Monuments, including the Grand Canyon in 1908.

In the early years, depending on prior management, monuments were allocated to a variety of federal agencies, including the Forest Service (within the Dept. of Agriculture), the Department of the Interior or the War Department. In 1916, with the creation of the National Park Service, monuments under Interior became part of the NPS portfolio. Later, in 1933, during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the federal government would transfer management of the USFS monuments to NPS, a decision that caused consternation within the Forest Service. The War Department monuments would also come under NPS jurisdiction during this same period. (2)

For almost its entire history, the Antiquities Act has generated controversy, though it is important to note that presidents (16 in total) from both parties have used their authority to create new monuments. Consequently, there have been ongoing calls, including during the current session of Congress, to either repeal or significantly limit the Act. For example, Senate Bill 228, the National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act (introduced by Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho) would require not only Congressional approval for new National Monuments, but also passage of a supportive bill by the legislatures of affected states. Not surprisingly, the recent designations by President Obama, have only added to debate over the Act’s future.

A few other notable controversies connected to the Antiquities Act:

In 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt designated the Jackson Hole National Monument in Wyoming (roughly 220,000 acres), which included lands purchased by Standard Oil heir John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Many local officials opposed the monument’s creation and Roosevelt eventually had to veto a bill passed by Congress to disestablish the monument. In 1950, President Harry Truman signed a bill merging most of Jackson Hole National Monument with Grand Teton National Park and the monument itself ceased to exist (it has been common over time for monuments to eventually be re-classified as National Parks). However, bowing to continued local opposition, the 1950 bill also modified the Antiquities Act, limiting presidential power to proclaim National Monuments in Wyoming.

In 1969, the town of Boulder, UT passed a resolution changing its name to “Johnson’s Folly” in protest over the decision of President Lyndon Johnson to expand both Arches and Capitol Reef National Monuments, both of which were later declared National Parks. The town would later change its name back to Boulder.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, despite assurances his administration would take no such action. A public ceremony to mark the monument’s creation was ultimately held in Arizona at the Grand Canyon owing to the growing controversy, and, while the act may have helped Clinton’s national re-election hopes, he lost Utah by a whopping 21 % points to the Republican nominee Bob Dole.

(1) The author dates the first national park to Yosemite in 1864 (despite the term “National Park” not being used, rather than Yellowstone in 1872, which is also a commonly used date.

(2) For a detailed overview of the creation, abolition and expansion of monuments connected to the NPS, see this informative article from the National Parks Traveler.

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Economic Change and Park Policy

By Eleanor Mahoney May 26, 2015

The upcoming National Park Service centennial in 2016 offers an ideal moment for those interested in the past, present and future of protected areas in the United States to assess the policies that have most affected conservation and preservation priorities over the course of the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries. While the rise of environmentalism in the 1970s certainly had a tremendous impact, as did earlier New Deal programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, it is imperative that transformations in economic regulations, including seemingly arcane issues such as tax rules (so important in determining the rise of suburban sprawl), not be left out of the discussion. Indeed, one might argue that political economy shaped the direction of park planning and development more than any other single factor, often determining both where new parks were located as well as the type of land management strategy pursued in a particular location by federal, state or local park agencies.

Two examples from the post World War II period highlight the significance of political economy and the need for it to be at center of critical, historical discussions during the centennial year. First, consider the example of industrial heritage parks – what I very roughly define as protected areas without clear (i.e. immediately visible to a visitor) boundaries or significant public ownership, but with an area of emphasis, whose prime interpretive and preservation focus are the human, environmental and economic stories of steel, textiles, mining, and other mass production industries. In the urban Northeast and Midwest, more two-dozen industrial heritage parks, also sometimes called urban cultural parks or heritage areas, gained either federal or state recognition between roughly 1977 and 2000. They represent a milestone in both conservation and preservation history in that the stories and experiences of working people often (though not always and perhaps not enough in covering more recent decades) took center stage in interpretative activities. (Note: Not all heritage area or urban cultural parks would fall under my rubric of industrial heritage parks, but many do).

Industrial heritage parks, whether in their earliest, neighborhood-centric form such as what eventually took shape in Lowell and the other Massachusetts state heritage parks, or in their later incarnation, the more regional-in-scope national heritage area model, were a response to swings in both corporate and government spending. By the 1970’s, most War on Poverty-era urban programs had been phased out, with only a few outliers continuing to operate beyond the early years of the Nixon administration. Civic leaders and activists in economically hard hit areas searched anywhere and everywhere for even small amounts of federal and state funding, hoping it might be the spark both to ignite economic growth and to preserve important places and stories. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly for them, local leaders soon discovered that parks could, in fact, be a potential source of support, especially with an Interior Department and, for a while, a Congress willing to invest in urban parks. Whereas industrial production once dominated these landscapes, now, it was hoped, parks and tourism might lead the way. Industrial heritage parks are thus a significant marker of the U.S. economy’s broader shift from an industrial to post-industrial focus. They also are an example of the move in protected areas towards a smaller degree of public ownership and a more partnership-oriented approach to management.

The second example from the postwar period worthy of further study is the “greenline park.” This is complex term encompassing many types of projects. For my purposes, it refers to the use of a mix of land protection strategies, including zoning, easements, and occasionally fee-simple purchase to protect “lived-in” landscapes threatened by rapid development. Thus, at the same time that cities in the nation’s industrial heartland turned to parks as a possible remedy to economic decline, other communities, particularly those located in coastal areas and rapidly expanding suburbs, sought to limit new investment and building via designation as a park or protected area.

By the 1970s, community opposition to highways, sprawl and second home construction in sensitive locations was no longer new. What had changed, however, was the federal and state regulatory environment. Bills like the National Environmental Policy Act and its state counterparts, the so-called little “little NEPAs” as well as legislation addressing historic resources, like the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, offered those seeking to protect landscapes a host of new tools and strategies. In addition, the implementation of zoning and other land use restrictions, once under the almost exclusive purview of local government, had begun to garner attention at the state and even federal levels, a move often referred to as the Quiet Revolution in Land Use Control after an influential Council on Environmental Quality report published in 1971.

Given these changed conditions, it is perhaps not surprising that the administration of protected areas would also take on new forms and functions. Advocates drew, for example, on European models, such as the English National Parks and the French Regional Nature Parks, programs that not only regulated development on largely private lands, but also sought to ensure some degree of continued public access.

In the United States, public regulation of private lands is typically seen as a political lightening rod. Yet, for a brief period, running from roughly 1960 – 1980, with its highpoint in the seventies, jurisdictions in rapidly growing areas across the country, frequently with the aid or direct oversight of the federal government, attempted to pursue just such an innovative approach to landscape protection. Prominent examples that took shape during this period include the Pinelands National Reserve in southeast New Jersey, Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve in Washington State and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California to name only a subset. In these places, different types of zoning, rather than fee simple purchase or condemnation, emerged as a prominent land protection strategy, as did the use of federal, state and even citizen- run commissions.

The two types of protected areas I all too briefly describe above – industrial heritage parks and greenline parks – both took shape, in large part, in response to shifts in the geography of American capitalism – forming in regions most impacted by connected patterns of disinvestment and speculation. By better understanding the origins, the possibilities and the limitations of these non-traditional parks, scholars and practitioners can reveal much about late twentieth-century planning, environmental policy and public space as well as how our contemporary economic moment – one characterized by funding austerity as well an increasing reliance on public-private partnerships – may be affecting the types of parks we both imagine and eventually create.

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George Wright Conference Highlights Large, Living Landscapes

By Eleanor Mahoney March 30, 2015

Writers and contributors from the Living Landscape Observer will be participating and presenting in a variety of sessions at the 2015 George Wright Biennial Conference that begins today (March 30) in Oakland, CA and runs through the end of the week. Themes to be covered include new approaches to cultural landscape conservation and connections between social and economic change and park policy. See a full schedule here.

Highlighted panels include:

Concurrent Session No. 3 – The Indigenous Cultural Landscape Approach in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Update and Next Steps (Monday March 30, 10am)

Concurrent Session No. 41 – Making Connections: Linking Heritage of Agricultural Landscapes with Community Engagement and Protected Area Conservation (Tuesday March 31, 1:30pm)

Concurrent Session No. 97 – Scaling Up and Private Protected Areas (Thursday April 2, 10am)

Concurrent Session No. 103 – New Directions for Cultural Landscapes (Thursday April 2, 1pm)

Concurrent Session No. 117 – From Theory to Practice: Social Policy and the Park Service, 1950 – 1980 (Thursday April 2, 3:30pm)

 

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Labor History Makes Headway in NPS

By Eleanor Mahoney February 26, 2015
Pullman strikers in Chicago. The Illinois National Guard is visible protecting the building.

Pullman strikers in Chicago. The Illinois National Guard is visible protecting the building.

Roughly a week ago, President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate Pullman, a former company town in Illinois, as a National Monument. The effort was a long time in the making, with many organizations and partners involved in the designation campaign.

Pullman first came to prominence in the 1880’s when George M. Pullman decided to build a model town to house workers employed at his rail car factories. While the accommodations and landscaping of the new community were fairly comfortable, the strict controls exercised by Pullman over the lives and political activities of his employees proved far less agreeable. Residents chafed at his strict behavioral standards and inflexible rents, which became especially onerous during the Panic of 1893, an economic depression like none the nation had ever seen (or would again until the stock market crash of 1929).

As a result of the crisis, Pullman workers saw their incomes drop, but not their rents, precipitating a strike in 1894 that would ultimately last for 2 months. The American Railway Union (only a year or so old at the time), then headed by Eugene V. Debs, sought arbitration, and when that failed, authorized union members to cease work on any trains that carried Pullman Palace cars. The strike – now national in scope and affecting some 250,000 workers – ground much of the country’s rail transport to a halt, with little traffic moving in and out of Chicago, the system’s largest hub. Ultimately, it took intervention on the part of the federal government, including both an injunction and the use of soldiers (both unprecedented at the time), to bring the action to a violent halt. Though the workers lost the strike, they did succeed in gaining widespread sympathy among the public. This support, however, did not translate into improved pay or working conditions. The 1894 events in Pullman demonstrated not only what solidarity among workers could achieve, but also the lengths to which some within the government and business establishment would go to prevent collective action among labor.

In later decades, the Pullman Company would continue to play an important role in labor and African American history. In 1937, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an African American union founded by civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, won a contract for Pullman porters – an exclusively African American workforce. Coming amidst the Great Depression, the agreement was truly groundbreaking, marking the first major contract between a union led by Black workers and a large corporation. Indeed, at the time, Pullman was the largest single employer of African Americans in the United States, though the town of Pullman itself remained racially segregated and largely off-limits to Black residents. Significantly, Randolph also played a key role in pressuring President Roosevelt – via his (Randolph’s) calls for a 1941 March on Washington – to issue Executive Order 8802 (1941), which prohibited discrimination in defense industries and created the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

Reading such stories, it is hard to believe that it took until 2015 for Pullman to become a part of the National Park system. Even more troubling, Pullman remains one of only a handful of sites that focus on telling stories of industrial work, especially in the context of union organizing, collective bargaining and civil rights movements.* It is important to note that unions, while advocating and organizing for economic change, often practiced racial, ethnic and gender-based discrimination, an important part of the labor story and one that adds much needed complexity to the potential interpretation at a site like Pullman.

Given the undeniable and ongoing impact of industrialization and later de-industrialization on the American landscape, it is well past time for places connected to key industries such as coal, steel, automobiles, aerospace, retail or petroleum to gain the attention (and yes, the debate and national dialogue) that comes with NPS designation. At a moment when income and wealth inequality is growing, reflecting on the role of unions in shaping late 19th and 20th century life seems all the more pressing.

To learn more about some of the labor history sites considered for both National Historic Landmark designation and unit designation, see the 2003 National Labor Theme Study (draft).

* Other sites (please let me know if I have missed any) that interpret these stories include: Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park (RI), Lowell National Historical Park (MA), Keweenaw National Historical Park ( MI), Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (NJ), César E. Chávez National Monument (CA) and Rosie the Riveter/ World War II Home Front National Historical Park (CA). The Kate Mullany National Historic Site, an affiliated area, also has a strong labor focus.

A large number of National Heritage Areas also interpret and protect sites associated with late 19th and 20th century labor and industrial history including: Augusta Canal National Heritage Area; Baltimore National Heritage Area, Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor; Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Essex National Heritage Area; Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area; Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor; John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor; Lackawanna Heritage Valley National and State Heritage Area; MotorCities National Heritage Area; National Coal Heritage Area; Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canal Way; Oil Region National Heritage Area; Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area; Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area; and Wheeling National Heritage Area.

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Sustainability – is it really what we want?

By Eleanor Mahoney December 30, 2014

Earlier this month, 15 National Heritage Areas had their authorizations to receive federal funding extended, meaning that the relatively modest amounts of support the areas receive via the National Park Service would continue to be available – at least for a while. While this is a positive development, it nonetheless underscores the precarious condition that many new and non-traditional types of parks and protected areas (at the local, state and federal levels) find themselves in year after year, constantly wrangling for dwindling public funds, while also applying for unpredictable grants and support from private foundations and individual donors. Is this the future of conservation or is there a better way? Is the oft-used term “sustainability” just a cover for the creation of under-funded, privately-supported parks, a sign of the shrinking public sector?

When the Congress, the NPS or a state agency asks that heritage areas or other types of partnership-based initiatives be “sustainable,” they often mean “able to operate without continued public support” or to be generous “with diminished public support.” But is this really the way we want our next generation of parks to be developed? What would local, state and national park systems look like if they had been managed in the same fashion? If Congress had told Yellowstone National Park or Antietam National Battlefield to be “sustainable,” the contemporary landscapes at both sites would likely be far different than the ones visitors encounter today. Indeed, we can already see a hint of what this type of austerity can do when we look at state park systems across the country. Starved for funds, state park agencies are closing parks, operating with shoestring staffs, putting off needed maintenance AND coming up with funding schemes that rarely raise the hoped for monies. All this, despite high visitation numbers and usage and incredibly devoted and professional staff people.

So, where does this leave us? New types of parks and protected areas need to be designated with care (always difficult when politics invariably comes into play), but once created, demand treatment commensurate with more longstanding sites. New parks should not have to be “sustainable” if other parks are not – they should be fully supported and advocated for as public goods, contributing to the preservation and conservation of significant historical, cultural and ecological resources and stories.  Of course, in a time of diminished public funding, this view may be labeled as unrealistic and perhaps even naive. Maybe so. But then let’s also be open about the situation and acknowledge that newer, partnership-oriented parks often get a raw deal relative to older sites and that this situation is directly linked to shifting government priorities and perhaps a lack of vision as well.

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The Recreation Imperative

By Eleanor Mahoney December 1, 2014

One of the most prominent themes to emerge at the recent National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation was the need to make cities central to the practice of conservation. Since at least the late 19th century, if not earlier, urban areas have often been posited as the antithesis to nature and natural spaces. Indeed, even those parks created within cities were intended by their middle-class proponents to function as green oases, calm respites from the physical and perceived moral ills of city life.

In the decades following World War II, however, attitudes towards nature began to change. While efforts to protect wild areas certainly gained traction, as evidenced by the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, so too did initiatives geared towards population centers, especially in and around coastal areas threatened by rapid development. Much of this energy centered on the provision of recreation, defined broadly to include everything from walking, driving, swimming and playing sports to hiking, camping and birdwatching. Also significant, the new protected areas created during the 1960’s and 1970’s, like Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (1978), Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area (1974), and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve (1978) recognized the mutual shaping of place by both nature and culture, acknowledging – albeit in fits and starts – that all landscapes, whether in designated wilderness or in downtown Manhattan, are products of the ongoing and intertwined histories of human and non-human life.

Following the release of the influential 1962 report Outdoor Recreation for America, issued by the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, both Congress and the Executive Branch began to take a more sustained interest in and agitated for action on the linked issues of open space, outdoor recreation, park creation and the relative paucity of protected areas of any sort in close vicinity to cities. Numerous scholars have pointed out that initiatives like the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) were in conflict with other federal programs, namely highway construction and the (racially-discriminatory) federal home loan program, but that, despite the many contradictions, funding continued to flow to both sets of priorities, though at significantly uneven levels.

One of the key recommendations that came out of both the 1962 ORRRC report as well as subsequent legislation authorizing the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) was the need for a national recreation plan, which would inventory resources and recommend current and potential directions for land and water use. Slated to be completed before the end of the ’60’s, the effort languished, until the Nixon administration, under Interior Secretary Walter Hickel, renewed calls for its completion. Dubbing his effort “parks to the people,” Hickel sought to promote urban-centric outdoor recreation, advocating for the creation of new national recreation areas among other endeavors.

In 1970, the BOR finally completed its 1,000+ page national study, entitled “The Recreation Imperative.” Cities were at the core of the study, and would have benefited from a massive infusion of cash and technical assistance, including the creation of a new National Park Service urban program. However, the plan’s massive price tag, over $6 billion, caused consternation among officials at the Budget Bureau (predecessor to today’s Office of Management and Budget), who were able to hold up the plan’s progress. The urban focus also did not prove popular with other officials within the Nixon Administration, who succeeded in suppressing the report for several years. Another, heavily-edited report, “Outdoor Recreation: A Legacy for America,” appeared in 1972, significantly it had no cost estimates.

Eventually, it was only as a result of Congressional action that “The Recreation Imperative” entered the public record. In September 1974, the Senate Interior Committee, then under the direction of Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) published the plan as a special committee document. Jackson also circulated the document among public and non-governmental officials and included their reactions to the study in the committee document as well. It is all now available on the web, and is worthwhile reading for those interested in often times convoluted history of federal park-making initiatives in metropolitan areas.

 

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LWCF and the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission

By Eleanor Mahoney November 4, 2014
President Lyndon Johnson signs the bill establishing the LWCF. Photo: NPS

President Lyndon Johnson signs the bill establishing the LWCF. Photo: NPS

In the years following World War II, outdoor recreation of all sorts, hiking, fishing, hunting, picnics, and yes – even driving – boomed across the United States as many families saw an increase in their income levels and their leisure time.  At the same moment, population pressures and suburban development, including in ecologically sensitive areas like shorelines and wetlands, threatened to both degrade and reduce open space and water access.

In response, Congress passed the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Act (P.L. 85-470) in 1958. The bill established the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC) and charged it with not only assessing contemporary recreation needs and wants, but also with looking ahead to the years 1976 and 2000, in an effort to predict what the country’s future recreation demands might be.

The Commission included representatives from executive branch agencies, Congress and private citizens. A 25-person advisory council also provided advice as did a knowledgeable staff. Laurance S. Rockefeller served as Chairman of the Commission, with Francis Sargent, who would later become Governor of Masschusetts, employed as the Executive Director.

The final documents issued by the ORRRC in 1962 are voluminous. In addition to its summary, Outdoor Recreation for America, the commission also issued an additional 27 study reports (link leads to a free public site where all reports, as well as many other government documents, can be accessed) dealing with all manner of subjects – open space, wilderness, shorelines, recreation in the heavily populated Northeast and development of private outdoor recreation facilities.

Two of the Commission’s proposals proved especially significant: a call to create a new recreation-centered agency in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the associated recommendation that the new entity would manage a federal grant program to aid states in the planning and acquisition of new recreation sites. These potential additions would be highlighted in state comprehensive outdoor recreation plans (or SCORPS as they are commonly known today).

In his March 1962 message to Congress on conservation,  President Kennedy endorsed much of the committee’s work. He soon moved to implement many of its action items, including the establishment of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation in the DOI. This move did cause some consternation among more established DOI agencies like the National Park Service, which had been the lead on federal-level recreation since the 1930’s.

President Kennedy and his Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall also took steps to establish the proposed grant program, dubbed the Land and Water Conservation Fund,(LWCF) but legislative efforts initially stalled. Ultimately, the momentum to fund outdoor recreation proved too great and a bill (P.L. 88 -578) to create the LWCF passed with bipartisan support in the next session. It would be signed into law on September 3, 1964. A more detailed history of the LWCF program is available on the NPS program site.

Initially, as proposed by the ORRRC, the new Bureau of Outdoor Recreation administered the fund. When the Bureau was abolished by the Carter Administration in 1977, a new agency, the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service (HCRS), assumed its responsibilities. This arrangement proved short-lived however, as HCRS itself faced elimination in 1981 during the early months of the new Reagan Administration. Tasks associated with recreation, including LWCF, as well as other programs including management of the National Register of Historic Places, would then come under the purview of the NPS.

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See America in a New Light

By Eleanor Mahoney January 31, 2014
This poster, from the late 1930s, is an example of the "See America" themed posters created by WPA artists. Poster by Harry Herzog. Source: Library of Congress

This poster, from the late 1930s, is an example of the “See America” themed works created by WPA artists. Poster by Harry Herzog. Source: Library of Congress

Earlier this month, the Creative Action Network and the National Parks Conservation Association launched an inventive crowd-sourced visual arts campaign called the “See America Project.” The initiative gets its name from a series of posters created by artists working for the Federal Art Project (FAP) during the 1930’s. One of several New Deal art programs, the FAP aimed to put unemployed artists back to work on a wide variety of tasks. Indeed, just in Washington State (which I researched for the Great Depression in Washington State Project), artists painted murals, did easel paintings, organized a successful art center in Spokane, created dioramas and demonstrated fabric arts. Across the country, artists also joined together to organize collectively in hopes of improving working conditions and wages and making the program permanent.

The FAP was one of several cultural ventures launched by the Roosevelt administration during the summer of 1935. Housed within the Works Progress Administration (WPA), these creative programs were collectively known as Federal One and also included the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Writers Project, the Federal Music Project and the Historical Records Survey (originally part of the Writers Project). Together, they represented a key element of the “Second New Deal,” a period (1935-1938) when landmark programs like Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act were first implemented. For those wondering, funding for most post office murals did not come from the WPA; instead, officials at the Treasury Department selected which works would be installed. See a few of the WPA See America posters here.

The See America concept, however, goes back further than the New Deal era. According to research done by scholars Marguerite S. Shaffer and Cory Pillen, the original See America campaign was launched by the Salt Lake City Commercial Club in 1905 in the hopes of generating tourist revenue that was ostensibly being lost to Europe. Other tourism officials soon picked up on the campaign, making it a national trend. This is only of many examples of the connection between parks and commercial tourism prevalent in this period, perhaps best captured by the relationship between railroads and the development of the NPS.

These early materials and the later WPA posters tended to represent an idealized, tourist friendly idea of the American landscape. For example, imagery associated with Indigenous peoples was quite common, yet the reality of dispossession, so fundamental to the creation of public lands in the United States, utterly disappeared from view – an especially noteworthy omission as the early years of the 20th century marked the high point of land loss facilitated by the Dawes (General Allotment) Act.

I have had a great time looking at the new See America Project submissions and I applaud the wonderful creativity of the artists, who have the freedom to imagine and present sites however they wish.  My hope for this 2014 series is that it can avoid the romanticizations and omissions of the past and instead embrace images of the landscape that capture and celebrate the ongoing interactions of diverse people and places throughout the United States. I would love to see images of people working, in addition to recreating, as well as of national historical parks that capture difficult, but important, moments in American history.  And, since it is NHA@30, I would also love to see some heritage areas, which are rich in labor history and cultural traditions.

Sources:

Pillen, Cory. 2008. “See America: WPA Posters and the Mapping of a New Deal Democracy”. Journal of American Culture. 31, no. 1.

Shaffer, Marguerite S. See America First: Tourism and National Identity, 1880-1940. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001.

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Parked!

By Eleanor Mahoney December 2, 2013

I have to admit, I was more than a little bit intrigued to read Parked! How Congress’ Misplaced Priorities Are Trashing Our National Treasures, a report issued in late October by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).  In 2008, while working for the National Heritage Areas program, I had helped gather data for a response to an information request from the Senator’s office, so ever since then, I’ve kept an eye on his various publications concerning the National Parks and other public lands programs.

Though the tone of the report is at times sensationalist (the cover at right an especially good example), one interesting critique did catch my attention, the propensity of members of Congress to introduce and then pass bills establishing new park units with no concurrent effort on the part of appropriators to adequately fund these units. This is not a new problem, but it has gotten worse over since the late 1970’s and 1980’s. This same issue has also proven incredibly detrimental to the heritage areas program, where funding has remained essentially flat, while the number of areas has more than doubled since the early 2000’s. (Coburn, never a fan of National Heritage Areas, criticizes them in the report as well.)

The National Parks Traveler published an interesting summary of the report, which included commentary from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. Deny Galvin, a former deputy director of the National Park Service, noted that: “This report is really more a criticism of Congress than of the NPS. Most of the programs it criticizes are based in law. The NPS has to administer them…The contention that (the Park Service’s) recent actions have exacerbated the (maintenance) backlog doesn’t stand up. Three of the programs it would eliminate have been around for about a half century. (Historic Preservation Fund 1966, Land and Water Fund 1965, National Recreation and Preservation ((RTCA and Heritage Areas)) 1963 with some authorities from the ’30s…” (National Parks Traveler, October 29, 2013)

Is it a problem that members of Congress continue to establish park units and affiliated areas with no means of adequately funding them? Will those authorizing new parks and those tasked with funding them (and existing parks and affiliated areas) ever be on the same page? Do we even want them to be – as this might mean important sites not getting designated. Are more National Heritage Areas, in particular, being designated because the regulatory requirements (i.e. zoning, a federal commission or federal funds for land acquisition) rarely remain part of NHA bills? Parks do not have a sunset, but NHAs often do have a date inserted in their authorizing legislation – how does this impact the debate? What do others think of this report and its findings? Will its impact be positive, negative or forgetful?

 

 

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