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The Role of Storytelling in Landscape Conservation

By Brenda Barrett August 31, 2020
Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas

As someone who started their career as a museum curator and then moved into preserving historic resources, the concept of using cultural resources as a way to convey a story is not new or foreign territory. However, most of my early experience was with interpreting objects or site-specific historic places. The idea of telling stories on a landscape scale never crossed my mind. 

It was not until I began working with Heritage Areas and the United States National Heritage Area (NHA) program, in particular, that I saw the power of this approach to build partnerships and unify a region. 

The importance of storytelling for the NHAs was a striking finding in an extensive evaluation conducted by the National Park Service. The review of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Reflecting on the Past, Looking to the Future (2005) found that understanding the story of the region was a call to action for the partners.  And further noted that:

Numerous partners describe the story as “the glue” that holds the region together. Thus, understanding the story not only helps to create a meaningful context for Corridor projects, it also serves as an organizing concept for the myriad groups and interests in the Valley. Another partner described how the story provides a way for different people and organizations to engage each other around a shared sense of history. In this way, the story has the potential to transcend time and culture, and become a unifying theme within the valley.’

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Photo: National Park Service

The evaluation of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, appropriately titled Connecting Stories, Landscapes and People (2006), also highlighted the importance of communicating the vision and telling stories to connect people and community throughout NHAs 160-mile corridor in Pennsylvania. A more recent set of NHA evaluations found that education and interpretation of the human-made and natural landscape was a high priority for residents and visitors alike. These evaluations showed that on average 26% of programmatic dollars went into this activity (2013).

With the increasing adoption of a large landscape approach for natural resource conservation, there have been efforts to identify the critical components for the success of such a strategy. Storytelling has emerged as a significant factor. The National Academy of Science’s report, “An Evaluation of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives”, concluded that a landscape approach is needed to meet the nation’s conservation challenges. It went on to identify ‘a unifying theme or story’ as a key element. The report noted this can provide stability in an inherently fragile system. 

Pathways Forward. Network for Landscape Conservation

The Network for Landscape Conservation, an organization with the mission of advancing collaborative, community-grounded conservation at scale, gathered experts together in 2017 to share best practices and prepare an agenda for the future.  In the follow-on report, Pathways Forward: Progress and Priorities in Landscape Conservation , a whole section was devoted to communication and engagement. It specifically called out the “connective power” of storytelling as playing a central role connecting people to each other and the land.

United States Colored Troops Photo:Pennlive

This is all good news, but it is only a start. If it is based on authenticity and integrity, storytelling can also contribute to our engagement with diverse communities and help build a more inclusive conservation movement.  This is more challenging than it sounds. Places that are significant to Native peoples and people of color may not be visible to the uninformed eye.  One example is the findings of the Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground project,  which seeks to preserve African American cemeteries. These sites are particularly vulnerable. Many of the rural cemeteries have been forgotten as populations shift and families move on to new opportunities, while their urban counterparts have fallen victim to changing land use and financial downturns. For conservation practitioners to “see” these overgrown and forgotten places requires listening to community members and digging more deeply into the historical records. This is just one example of places that need to be seen and conserved. We are only just beginning to uncover all the stories that landscapes have to tell. 


Naturecultrues Dialogue: Rural Landscapes and Integrated Management

By Brenda Barrett August 30, 2020

Session 9 with Brenda Barret, Jessica Brown and Mary Laheen

In our new series of naturecultures sessions that runs from May to September 2020, we introduced a different format. Presentations are pre-circulated, leaving most of the session open for active discussion.

In this particular meeting, we had two separate presentations circulated under the theme Rural Landscapes and Integrated Management. The abstract, and link for each of these presentations are included at the end of the article. This summary is drawn up from comments that came up in the dialogue session, and elaborated on in the email discussion afterwards. These comments are general, abstract expressions, and personal thoughts that are not necessarily associated with the view of ICOMOS, IUCN or any other organisation.

As the discussion began, Maya summarized the two presentations as follows:

Your presentations illustrate very clearly how in rural landscapes, the interlinkages between nature and culture are evident. Jessica and Brenda have given an overview of different systems and initiatives which, at international and national levels, recognize a heritage value to rural landscapes, as these are fundamental for food security, biodiversity conservation and cultural continuity.

Mary has illustrated these important values of rural landscapes with an example from a traditional farming system in Ireland, where communities see the landscape in a more holistic way, and which is resilient to the passing of time and socio-economic changes. As a start to the dialogue, we went back to the presenters’ own personal journey through the nature-culture divide in their work on rural landscapes. 

I had a very dynamic discussion, and I add a quote from Monica Luenga that I think is quite admirable: “It was 2009-2010 when we began, thanks to your clever insistence (Lionella Scazzosi), with the Rural Landscapes Initiative. I must say that at that moment there was not much interest in ICOMOS (except for our ISC Cultural Landscapes ICOMOS-IFLA) for the subject. I only took 10 years to make our organization believe it was something to take into account as cultural heritage!”

It is a great reminder of how small change and consistent hard work really can bring change. Well done to many great efforts that play out in this group.

Abstract by Brenda Barret and Jessica Brown: 

Integrative approaches to nature and culture in rural landscapes 

As places where nature and culture intersect in myriad ways, rural landscapes have much to teach us about taking integrative approaches to conservation that bring together diverse values, disciplines and aims.

Spanning a vast area of the planet’s surface, these landscapes and waterscapes serve as the foundation of economic livelihoods and food security worldwide, while encompassing an array of tangible and intangible cultural heritage values that are interlinked with natural values such as biodiversity, agrobiodiversity and ecosystem services. Traditional practices of cultivating and gathering food in rural areas embody the entangled dimensions of nature and culture. 

This overview presentation will explore the role the global heritage community has played and can play in recognizing and conserving rural landscapes, with an emphasis on traditional agricultural landscapes. Drawing on experience from diverse regions, it will highlight lessons on how the multiple values of these places can be better managed for more sustainable outcomes and resilience in the face of global challenges including climate change.

Noting the role of international, national and regional/local designations – such as UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscapes, IUCN Category V Protected Landscapes and Seascapes, Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) and National Heritage Areas – it will briefly review examples of different approaches to management and governance of agricultural landscapes.

The important contribution of community-based strategies for stewardship, such as Landcare in Australia, and the emergence of global networks such as the International Partnership of the Satoyama Initiative, will be flagged up. Finally, the presentation will discuss progress in the emergence of converging understandings of key elements in the stewardship of rural landscapes. Recently ICOMOS has taken the lead by developing the World Rural Landscape Principles (adopted 2017). The opportunity for deeper engagement by nature conservation organizations calls for potential collaboration going forward.

 The case study that will complement this overview presentation is “Farming with Nature.’ In the Backstairs landscape the Republic of Ireland demonstrates the multiple challenges of landscape management and the opportunities that lie with community-based approaches.

Link to Presentation HERE

Abstract by Mary Laheen: Farming with nature in the blackstairs 

A group of upland sheep farmers are involved in a collaboration of their own design to find ways to support threatened fauna and flora in a designated landscape, while making their own farms viable for their families and future generations. This is taking place in the Blackstairs Mountains, Na Staighrí Dubha, in the southeast of Ireland.

The presentation will describe the landscape and how the farmers work and organize themselves collectively in the commonage areas of the mountain. It is a place that has been farmed and inhabited for 6000 years, the landscape shows the marks of the last Ice Age – about 12,000 to 14,000 years ago here – with land formations and glacial debris. Field monuments and other archaeological artefacts are dispersed throughout, reaching back to pre-history, and continuing up to the 19th century. Intangible and tangible cultural heritage exists in the land division system, which is known as the townland matrix, and has roots in the medieval and possibly pre-medieval period. Traditional farming practices continue to exist but are threatened in the current generation. Present-day farmers are aging and younger people are less inclined to continue with an agricultural livelihood. 

The Blackstairs Farming Group has been inspired by and has learnt from other models for the management of landscape in Ireland, such as, the High Nature Value Farming schemes of the Burren – a limestone plateau landscape in County Clare -, and the drystone wall field boundary landscape of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland. The presentation aims to describe the emergence of the group and take a look at the progress of the management scheme which is still in its early stages of development.

Link to Presentation HERE


1Alicia Cahn (AC)14Mary Laheen (ML), Panelist2Ana Bajcura (AB)15Marike Franklin (MF), Dialogues Convenor3archer st.clair harvey (AH)16Maya Ishizawa (MI), Moderator4Brenda Barret (BB), Panelist17Mónica Lueng (ML)5Cira Szklowin (CS)18Nicole Bolomey (NB)6Anna Gaynutdinova (AG)19Nobuko Inaba (NI)7Greg De Vries (GdV)20Nora Mitchell (NM)8jane Lennon (JL)21nupur prothi (NP)9Je-Hun Ryu (JR)22Patricia ODonnell (PoD)10Jessica Brown (JB), Panelist23Priyanka Singh (PS)11Kristal Buckley (KB)24Raffaella Laviscio (RL)12Lionella Scazzosi (LS)25Rohit Jigyasu (RJ)13Liz Morgan (LM)26Steve Brown (SB)  27Bansal Suramya (BS)


Working in Silo’s PoD: The “silos” of nature and culture practice- job titles, legislation, planning, knowledge and more- are highly entrenched. How to overcome this separation and integrate more effectively. NP: what is the way forward for policy and legislation at a national and provincial level? where do we see our role in this?RJ: Rural landscapes should be seen not in isolation but how these are influenced by changes in the larger territory including urbanization process…ML: Do you agree that in the sense of improving communities’ lives, GIAHS from FAO are probably better focused than World Heritage. The first ones take into account much more sustainability and the wellness of communities than World Heritage that is still much more addressed to simple heritage conservation?RJ: I totally agree with you Monica…World Heritage is so obsessed with OUV (outstanding Universal Value) business that it tends to ignore the larger linkages with sustainability.PoD: ICOMOS IFLA ISCCL 2019 ADCOM Symposium- “Rural Heritage- Landscape and Beyond” addressed the full range of society-economy-environment sustainability issues. Certainly not aesthetic qualities as primary.PoD: Certainly a the 2030 Agenda- UN SDGs- are a solid touchstone.PoD, NP, RJ, ML
Aesthetic view of rural landscapes in terms of World Heritage RJ: I think it is very important to move away from a purely an aesthetic view of rural landscapes and link it with larger issues of social and economic sustainability. In this context, it is important that heritage is not viewed by the larger audience as an elitist sector but more as a sector that will improve the quality of lives of rural inhabitants.SB: I agree Rohit. Seeing heritage as part of sustainability, resilience, etc. is essential as a way to engage with communities and the host of actors engaged in rural landscapes. SB: Agro-ecology seems to be also represented by ‘regenerative agriculture’ – in Australia at least. See Charles Massey’s book Call of the Reed Warbler’ on thisRJ, SB
Evolution, transformation, and the scale of rural landscapes SB: Interesting phrase ‘landscape of the poor’, Mary. I know you mean financially poor, but rural dwellers often have diverse and rich lives in other contexts (connection to landscape & community connectivity, for example).RJ: Maybe we also need to consider evolution of rural landscapes…we cannot expect farmers to continue with ancient agricultural practices when needs, climatic conditions and economy is undergoing global change. So, in the light of these, what is the future of rural landscapes that we envisage…certainly not as pristine landscape as we have known to appreciate. We must address ways of managing the change in rural landscapes.ML: I agree with the interest of the phrase. In my country it would be, on the contrary, the landscape of the rich, as most of the land, except in a few regions; it is big landowners’ estates. Thanks Mary, exactly what I was writing!AB: In Argentina the scale of rural landscape is huge, all is huge… We have some similar points with Ireland politics: the pour people live in the landscape. When I visited Ireland, I saw a little scale of landscape as a jewel… the owners of more than 100Ha’s live in the town or the city.  AG : In the context of strict institutional division on the national level between culture and nature conservation and protection in the sake of better protection and introduction of holistic approach into the management system of the site which was inscribed on the WHL as a cultural heritage property, do you think, is it essential to re-nominate this site as a cultural landscape or mention of the natural component as a value in the Statement of OUV is enough?BS: To add on, rural spaces may or may not exist in absolute isolation, they are connected to broader geographies be it other regional spaces or other urban ones. Also, we need to look at the rural-urban continuum, where the state of being is always dynamicPoD: A conceptual isolation would be artificial- In the UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation discussions, the issue of territorial relationships- the daily interactions of town/city and countryside. With the pandemic there appears to be movement from large cities to smaller communities, a future trend we may see more of with rural settlements increasing. SB: “What is in transformation is difficult to protect”. I agree Lionella, and is part of the thinking around limits of acceptable change. But acceptable to who?ML: Mary, exactly, nobody is speaking about heritage in rural landscapes. Why? Partly, I think, because they are afraid that this will imply the “conservation” or “freezing” of their way of life, techniques, etc.. So, first thing would be to make the communities that considering heritage regarding rural landscapes means on the contrary, sustaining their way of life in a sustainable way!SB: There is a move in Australia to ‘Make Australia Make Again’! That is taking the products of agriculture and using them locally for greater community benefits and employment.PoD: There are communities that are well informed and value their rural cultural landscapes. The characterization of the heritage field as the sole voice of evolved rural CL is I suggest self-focused and incorrect. We have and can continue to find local voices and values in this work. SB, RJ, ML, AG, BS, AB
Rural Landscapes Initiative – in need of specific tools to manage rural landscapes ML: Exactly Lionella, it was 2009-2010 when we began, thanks to your clever insistence, with the Rural Landscapes Initiative. I must say that at that moment there was not much interest in ICOMOS (except for our ISC Cultural Landscapes ICOMOS-IFLA) for the subject. It only took 10 years to make our organization believe it was something to take into account as cultural heritage!ML: As regards to World heritage, the main problem with rural and productive landscapes is authenticity. How to accept this change Lionella has mentioned with authenticity of OUV? Many evaluations for WH (world heritage) productive landscapes do not accept changes and pretend these landscapes should be freezed in the past with farmers living like in medieval or prehistoric times.RJ: Very much agree with views of LionellaAB: Some crops are sustainable and others no., It’s economic production. There are controls but not enough. Different scales and different problems. There isn’t cultural landscape awareness. I agree with Lionella.RL: So we agreeAG: I totally agree with Monica, and if the site is inscribed as cultural heritage it is even less possible to approach to it as something evolving and dynamic (and WHL is full with such so to say hidden or latent cultural landscapes)NP: Honghe Hani terraces showcased many of the stresses, challenges mentioned above. but World heritage rural landscapes also offer an opportunity for showcasing good practice of resilience where we can showcase the way forward.RL: So, we agree that we need specific tools to manage rural landscapes remembering that they are heritage. What we can suggest?AB: I agree with Mónica that rural landscape is a production/economic issueML: Monica this is fundamental problem with WHC…the concepts of authenticity and integrity that originated from the overarching perspective of ‘protection’ are applied across the board. How do we apply or redefine these ‘jargons/concepts’ for landscapes that are always in flux in essence? I would also argue that may be these concepts are not relevant anymore…I sometimes wonder, why don’t we include sustainability as another dimension in the operational guidelines that may qualify heritage values rather than only authenticity and integrity.PoD: “Rural Landscapes are productive” as Monica says- the point is both agriculture and forestry- we think of crops as fields, not woodlands- which need to be integrated. Both are economic in part. Also, now these hectares/acres are also engaged in global conservation- in Vermont in 2019 a first large reserve with carbon credits exchange. Another recent vector to consider.ML: Totally agree with you Rohit. Sustainability is only considered in WH issues in the management plans but not as a “pillar” of the system… We should perhaps re-think the whole of it?… Patricia, absolutely agree also, woodlands in WH, for example, are only considered if they are part of a cultural landscape that is mainly crop fields, like in the Honghe Hani terraces.PoD: By 2022 ISCCL review of the Rural Principles is scheduled. Raffaella notes an invitation to engage. This is one aspect of that participation.ML, AB, RJ, RL, AG, NP, PoD
What is the Covid 19 Pandemic showing us as issues in the field, and what can we each do as individuals I am interested in the way that the COVOD-19 pandemic is showing up issues in many fields, including the fields of heritage and rural landscapes. I thought that the points made by Monica and Rohit about World Heritage (and beyond) were apposite – that the focus on authenticity and intactness needs to be supplemented with deeper considerations of sustainability and well-being (of land/waters and people). To some degree this already happening through the WH Sustainability Policy. I also thought the observation by Patricia was interesting – a movement from urban to rural areas; I am not sure we see that in Australia, but it may well be a medium- to long-term consequence of the pandemic. I mentioned in Chatbox that there is a move to ‘Make Australia Make Again’. My understanding is that this arose because someone was looking to buy a cap / baseball-style cap that was fully made in Australia and was unable to do so (and then started making them). The point is that so much Australian manufacturing happens off-shore and this has highlighted a position of vulnerability and risk in Australia – e.g., lack of masks and other personal protective gear. An interesting example of adaptability in this regard happened with many vineyards in eastern and southwestern Australia. The catastrophic bushfires over the summer of 2019-2020 caused many grapes to be smoke-affected and therefore unsuitable for wine making. Quite a few vineyards, from March this year, turned to producing hand sanitiser with the alcohol produced by the grapes, thus filling a manufacturing need in Australia. I think this is a great example of ingenuity and creativity in the rural sector. Finally, I agree with Jane and others asking what can the ISCCL – and each of us individually – do to support the idea of rural landscapes as heritage. I think this is a difficult ask, and there is no one and no simple answer. However, to be engaged and active is vital. There is so much great work being done generally, and tapping into this is necessary – thanks Brenda and Jessica for reminding us of the huge range of actions already happening around the world. LM: I was particularly interested in the discussions on sustainability by Steve et al “seeing heritage as part of sustainability” and the importance of improving communities’ lives in Agri-environmental schemes, which GIAS appears to take more seriously than WH site OUV.In Ireland people in the Irish Department of Agriculture have been looking for many years at ways to use E.U. funds to conserve traditional environments with sustainable farming practices. This has led to a number of very good Agri- environ-mental schemes. As Mary highlighted in her presentation on the Backstairs -locally led results-based incentives along with the autonomy of management methods devised by farmers were important for successful engagement. While these schemes are mainly devised to enhance and protect biodiversity, (and usually apply to protected natural landscapes such as SAC etc), project management initiatives can and do include cultural landscape support for farmers to understand and conserve cultural heritage along with natural heritage in their rural landscapes. It is important to promote awareness that the wider “everyday” rural landscape places require similar appreciation of their natural and cultural heritage values as SAC, ANOB, etc and provision of appropriate support to improve communities’ livelihoods.Natural heritage awareness has some advantages over cultural landscape awareness.  In Ireland each city/county council has to have a Biodiversity Action Plan – using simple tools and messages to inform the general public. Perhaps we could learn from these plans to help raise awareness of how the rural landscape heritage interconnects with biodiversity and how, together, they form a valuable resource for the future.  SB, LM
Comparison of Session #5 to this session #9 on integrated management CS: I agree with Rohit Jigyasu’s emphasis that landscapes do not stand in isolation, but are influenced by evolving links with its territorial context and processes, although the suggestions that heritage be a part of sustainability -or sustainability be added in the operational guidelines as another dimension to qualify heritage values- may arise some conflicting issues (e.g. regarding sustainability and resilience related to climate change).I wonder if Monica Luengo’s observation that GIAHS from FAO are more focused on sustainability and people, implies that their effective consideration may diminish the visibility and consideration of heritage conservation values, or turn their respective objectives not totally congruent.I also agree with Suramya Bansal to consider the rural-urban continuum (in Latin America we include peri urban, a rural-urban interface of unplanned spill over of urban growth into rural areas). The importance of their evolving links is not much taken into consideration, as Patricia O’Donnell’s mention of daily territorial interactions.It seems to me that consideration of contexts and scales is much more important now to the management of rural landscapes, as they can provide a more resilient, knowledge-based framework for conservation.   The stability of a contemporary cultural landscape embedding familiar or small productive systems, providing habitat, livelihood and attachment, can be more dependent of the economic vicissitudes of markets and  their regional contexts -as opposed to large landowners or corporate agricultural systems, whose performance are linked to factors affecting global markets, producing local impacts (changes in land uses, way of life, landscape).  It was interesting to me to relate some of the issues in this # 9 session, with those in the # 5 session with Jane Lennon.·         Marike Franklin, regarding adaptive landscapes and how much change is acceptable asked whether the “missing link to the management of cultural landscapes is the notion of ‘landscape character’…which is not limited to land use but looks at the range of elements that give it its character”·         Jane Lennon dealt with principles, uncertainties and issues related to integrity and authenticity, governance, and the need of a new approach to “understand not only change but also continuity in the rural landscape as habitat”LS: I said, when we work on rural landscape nature culture interconnection is evident, in the past as in the present, for each place having rural functions and characteristics. Not only outstanding places but all places. And always we can find historic traces, more or less evident and well maintained. The idea to conceive heritage coming from rural landscapes as resource is strategic for the future. My idea is that we could work more and deeply on tools, analysing international tools as UNESCO sites and GIAH’s, but also some regional and national tools to understand better potentialities and problems. Actually, many suggestions have been given during the meeting!!! The organisation of this type of meeting is really excellent and effective!! It could be used also to go deeper on rural landscapes. CS, LS

Circulated pre-reading: 

Reading by Brenda Barret and Jessica Brown: 

Nora J. Mitchell & Brenda Barrett (2015) Heritage Values and Agricultural Landscapes: Towards a New Synthesis, Landscape Research, 40:6, 701-716, DOI:10.1080/01426397.2015.1058346 (attached)

Jessica Brown (2015) Bringing Together Nature and Culture: Integrating a Landscape Approach in Protected Areas Policy and Practice, Nature Policies and Landscape Policies, Chapter 3 of Springer International Publishing Switzerland (attached)

Reading by Mary Laheen: 

Laheen, M and Fitzgerald (2014) Granite Dry Stone Walls and Ditches of the Blackstairs in South Carlow, a Chomhairle Oidhreachta; the Heritage Council Ireland (attached)

Additional reading: 

Jessica Brown (2018) A Few Short Journeys Along the Nature-Culture Continuum: Reflections on community-led conservation. Landscape Magazine, Volume 7 Issue 1 p35 (attached)

ICOMOS-IFLA Principles concerning Rural Landscapes as Heritage, Draft (2017) for GA 2017 6-3-1 – Doctrinal Texts (attached)  

This meeting:Rural Landscapes and Integrated Management

Brenda Barret, Jessica Brown and Mary Laheen

The next meeting:Argentinean perspective on naturecultures

Ana Bajcura, Alicia Cahn and Cira Szklowin

31 August 202010 PM GMT


Naturecultures Dialogue: Connecting Practice

By Brenda Barrett August 3, 2020

Session 8 with Gwenaëlle Bourdin, Leticia Leitão, Carlo Ossola, and Nupur ProthiKhanna

In our new series of naturecultures sessions that runs from May to September 2020, presentations are pre-circulated, leaving most of the dialogue session open for active discussion. In this particular session we had four separate presentations circulated under the theme Connecting Practice. The abstract (overview of Connecting Practice), and link to these 10-16minute presentations is included on the next page. This summary is drawn up from comments that came up in the dialogue session, and elaborated on in the email discussion afterwards. These comments are general, abstract expressions, and personal thoughts that are not necessarily associated with the view of ICOMOS, IUCN or any other organisation.  

The objectives of this particular dialogue session were to:

  • Share information on the Connecting Practice project – its origins, aims and approach, and current status 
  • Share and discuss lessons learned to date from Connecting Practice project and individual World Heritage properties rich in naturecultures values
  • Discuss the implications of lessons learned for conservation practice today – and some of the important challenges remaining for naturecultures integration 
  • Discuss how to best share lessons learned more broadly and how best to encourage continued dialogue on naturecultures integration


Since 2013, ICOMOS and IUCN have been conducting ‘Connecting Practice’ – a joint project aimed at developing new methods and conservation strategies that recognize and sustain the interconnected character of the natural, cultural, and social values of World Heritage sites. A short-term goal of the project is to develop practical strategies for a more integrated conservation approach and to improve coordination and deepen collaboration between cultural and natural sectors to achieve better conservation outcomes. In the longer term, the more ambitious goal is to gain a deeper understanding of interconnections of culture and nature and influence shifts in the conceptual and practical approaches for values assessment, governance and management within the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and beyond. This approach is intended to “bridge the divide” that is often observed between natural and cultural heritage — overcoming the many unintended adverse outcomes that can result. This collaborative project is designed to learn from current practice by having interdisciplinary project teams work directly with staff and partners from World Heritage sites that illustrate the inter-linkage of cultural and natural heritage. In this dialogue session, four professionals will share their experience and lessons they learned from their involvement in the Connecting Practice project. They will also reflect on shifts in their own perspective and their observations on recent changes in conservation practice. We invite your participation in the dialogue on recent innovations in practice and reflections on lessons from your own experience with conservation of places rich in naturecultures values. We also invite your suggestions on ways in which the Connecting Practice project and lessons learnt might be shared with other members of the ISCCL and beyond. 

Link to Presentations by the four panellists, the reading material, and recording of the dialogue session:  HERE


1Alicia Cahn (AC)21Maureen Thibault (MT)
2Archer St Clair Harvey (AH)22Mary Laheen (ML)
3Ana Bajcura (AB)23Maya Ishizawa (MI) 
4Anna Gaynutdinova (AG)24Meetali Gupta (MG)
5Aurelie Fernandez (AF)25Monalisa Maharjan (MM)
6Bansal Suramya (BS)26Monica Luengo (ML) 
7Brent Mitchell (BM)27Natali Bolomey (NB)
8Brenda Barrett (BB)28Nancy Pollock Elwand (NPE)
9Carlo Ossola (CO) Panelist29Nora Mitchell (NM) Session Co-Organiser 
10Cira Szklowin (CS)30Nupur Prothi (NP) Panelist 
11Cari Goetchus (CG)31Patricia ODonnell (POD)
12Darwina Neal (DN)32Paul Jurcys (PJ)
13Gwenaelle Bourdin (GB) Panelist33Priyanka Singh (PS)
14Helen Wilson (HW)34Rohit Jigyasu (RJ)
15Jessica Brown (JB)35Sanaa Niar (SN)
16Je-Hun Ryu (JR)  36Steve Brown (SB) Moderator; Session Co-Organiser
17Kate Lim (KL)37Supitcha Sutthanonku (SS)
18Leticia Leitao (LL) Panelist38Tim Badman (TB) Respondent
19Kristal Buckley (KB) Respondent39Tomeu Deya (TD)
20Marike Franklin (MF) Dialogues Convenor40 


General comments on the session and Connecting Practice SB: This dialogue provided the opportunity to reflect on what has been learned from the Connecting Practice project; and to consider what has begun to change and where challenges remain and more effort is needed.  CS: I think that this project was admirably conceived, in the sense that it provides the basic conditions for a built-in process of interdisciplinary, multi-actor, system-based discussions that connect practices. This evolving process will eventually lead to a conceptual and operational integration of naturecultures and perhaps to institutional convergence.  The on-going results from the project, and future initiatives/actions, has the capacity to evolve, grow in complexity and embody an interactive framework.  Matching the conceptual, evaluation and conservation/management aspects involved in the naturecultures value integration. The change has begun. KB: Some wonderful points were made – and the materials that were uploaded in advance were really thoughtful. It’s a complete pleasure to join such well-organised and thoughtful discussions. The cause continues – but for me, it has been incredibly encouraging and inspiring to see this become a topic of more ‘mainstream’ discussion in ICOMOS SB, CS, KB
Education NPE: We divide culture and nature institutionally, in policy, governance, across disciplines, field, etc. It seems if we are to improve the divide, we need to change our approach in terms of education — I would be interested to know the panelists’ ideas on how we may change our educational approaches to accommodate a more integrated view of nature and culture.   RJ: Terminology from nature and culture sectors…Have you come across terms that are understood/defined differently in the two sectors…How did you reconcile these differences?TB: Yes agree with this Nancy Pollock Elwand’s though we need to challenge the “we” here since that term I think comes loaded with assumptions and part of the reality, at least in terms of international practice, is that many cultures, and most communities, don’t separate nature and culture (or even have words for the terms, but have played too little role in the discourse, and defining standards, methods etc.  One place to see an IUCN take on this is that we have an resolution from 2008… Recognition of the diversity of concepts and values of nature.It is also striking to me that indigenous peoples, and in particular indigenous youth, have been speaking out in the Convention on Biological Diversity on the importance of culturally appropriate education, considering how the transmission of traditional knowledge is inseparable from education in local and traditional languages.  We need to see conservation and education as inseparable.Regarding the broader point then I think changes in international courses could include a particular focus on integration in course syllabi for some of our key disciplines, and this would include both the inclusion of more anthropology in ecology courses, and more ecology in courses concerned with landscapes.  And I think all people who work internationally should be able to demonstrate some cross-cultural understanding of how different languages and cultures frame the people/nature/culture relationship … to push back on a discussion that is about diversity, but only happens in few languages, and especially in English.  Finding courses that are leading by example in this space and promoting them would be a practical thing to do, and something that ICOMOS and IUCN could team up on.  There are relations to build with UNESCO here too, in their education sector.MG: I personally don’t agree with targeting the ‘marginalised society’ (reference to NP’s comment in session). The exercise might work even with school kids in general. One of the Indian design studios has been doing it.NP: Thanks MG for your observation. Working with the marginalised communities was a mandate of the project. We just experimented and decided to work with children and youth instead of adults.CS: It seems to me that one of the worst problems of this institutional divide -resulting from an anachronic sectorial organizational and a correlating culture dealing with single aspects of the naturecultures reality-, is the generalized disregard of interactions and transversal links. I think that between this failing institutional state and educational approaches there is room to experiment/create new arrangement based on projects –like this ICOMOS/IUCN one, a replicable model for other complex domains- involving different professional disciplines around a complex task, building in time a common vocabulary (and hopefully an articulated set of approaches), by working together and in interactions with institutional and community actors.LL: Regarding NP’s question on how to change educational approaches to accommodate for a more integrated view of nature and culture, my first reaction is that this is a really large and complex question and we should be very careful of coming up with “simplistic solutions”. As argued by Yuval Noah Harari, in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, “For 300 years the world has been dominated by humanism, which sanctifies the life, happiness and power of Homo sapiens”.  In my view, we are talking about ways of thinking and organizing societies that have evolved over centuries and this will be very difficult to change. Tim (TB) rightly mentions that certain cultures do not separate humans from nature. However, in my opinion the prevalent “world view” is one where humans don’t think of themselves as one species among many but as a superior species, which controls nature. Whether we like it or not, more and more we live in an interconnected world, where different cultural groups are blending into a single global civilization.   To grasp the disconnect between this way of thinking from that of a cultural group that perceives humans as part of nature, I invite you to have a look at Alessandro Pignocchi’s book called “Petit traité d’ecologie sauvage”. I have it in French and I am not sure if it exists in other languages.   On a more positive note, and a concrete example on changing the educational approach, I suggest you read the article from the Guardian’s columnist George Monbiot’s on “Coronavirus show us it’s time to rethink everything. Let’s start with education”, RJ, TB, CS, LL, MG, NP
Natural and cultural values that are in continues flux RJ: How do we understand natural and cultural values in continuous flux…always evolving and changing? We may understand them, how they existed in the past…but the interrelationships have changed in the present context….and they are going to further change in the future. Reconciling this change/evolution is a challenge especially in the light of exponential climate change.TB: Yes, fully agree. We need to understand exactly this point.  It is axiomatic for nature conservation approaches since ecosystems are always changing.  But we need to be better at really understanding past change, time depth in landscapes and including the timescales, cycles and the socio-economic interactions and legacies.  Contested histories, past injustice, long term impacts of colonialism, national and community narratives, and migration all intersect in this space in ways that can be fundamental in moving to just and inclusive conservation practice.  There are also tools and methods that we can share and learn from here … the impact assessment is all about this, climate is a hugely important focus with both the combination of new science and local knowledge, plus methods like “Limits of Acceptable Change”.CS: Auto organized systems permanently change to adapt to, and evolve with their contexts, while at the same time, maintaining the basic set of interrelationships related to its core identity. I agree that the challenge for us is how to understand the core interdependent values, and dynamic thresholds to configure a naturecultures system adaptive capacity for conservation.LL: I agree with RJ’s views as well as with TB’s point that we need to be better at understanding past change. But I also think that we first need to acknowledge past change, that is, that heritage (natural or cultural) is the result of cumulative layers of change and evolution over time and that it is normal that natural things will continue to change. That said, it is critical to understand the speed and the scale of that change and when the effects of that change will be felt. This is particularly important in relation to climate change because the effects of actions taken decades ago will only be felt fully decades from now. In systems thinking these are called delays.  There are both perceptions delays (identifying and recognizing the effects) and response delays (actually act on it and starting to see the results of the responses) … while in the meantime the system might have changed again and the responses might be insufficient or inadequate!    RJ, TB, CS, LL
Systems ThinkingPOD: Carlos mentioned systems drawn from ecological work. Leticia noted in her video about systems as arising all at once, not sequentially and recognizing these as a “eureka” in connecting practices. Any comments?   TB:  I think Leticia’s paper brilliantly makes this point, and the intersecting points regarding interdisciplinary approaches, and RJ’s above point is also connected … plus also the point we got to in the seminar that we need to bring a levelling of specialists and communities (viz science and traditional knowledge, viz empowering locally led solutions ahead of top-down thinking, viz empowering diversity in conservation…  The challenge here is to find ways of working that can recognise systems thinking, without getting paralysed by rational-comprehensives, or by finding that we talk the talk about systems, but leave out the human and social dimensions because of lack of inclusion, or because we have gaps in data or approaches that favour quantitative science.  I think the dialogue pointed to several ways that Connecting Practice is finding solutions in practice to this question.TD: Stakeholders should be on the decision-making site board and not just in participative groups as consultants.CS: A system can arise/emerge as a new one when it is pushed over the limits of its existential context, or when it reaches a basic auto organized state.  Also, the meaning of an image or the perception of a visual landscape is grasped in a sudden and interconnected way, as opposed to the sequential eliciting of the meaning of a text. And Patricia’s interpretation (“eureka”) of Leticia expression (“arising all at once”) is also an attribute of a complex, multilevel, nonlinear system.AB: When the systems as arising all at once, the connection is to connect with our inside, with all the senses and feelings at the same time: touch, smell, sights, sounds, temperature. Because “nature” is so complex and amazing and will always surprise us. When it succeeds all at the same time, we have a real connection with all our world. After this Session, and reading/watching the presentations again, it allowed me some thoughts:We work In nature and not with nature. Because In means inside, wrapped in it, that “nature” is bigger than us … for us to be inside nature.If we work “with” Nature, it is like we work with another person … at the same level. We can share with them at the same level, in the sense of taking it, being on par. The rules are those of nature, not of what we want. I think when the authorities can understand and recognise this difference, this world begin to be better.BS: Self-reflexivity and ground-truthing will definitely make a huge difference in realizing and understanding inherent and localised wisdom and knowledge.TB: Totally agree with this point, change needs both a large reflection, but roots in diverse local realities.POD, TB, CS, AB, BS

Lessons learnt and Phase 4  SB: I understand that there is funding available for Connecting Practice Stage 4. If so, it would be great to know what the objectives of Stage 4 will be. Gwenaelle and Leticia – do you know what these are, please?I also have a broader question for the group, especially those not familiar with the Connecting Practice project. What do you think are the best ways to share the lessons learned from Connecting Practice? At present this is done through publishing reports on the ICOMOS and IUCN websites; through presentations at conferences; and through publications. What other ways could be used to share with broader audiences the lessons learned?MF: Do you think looking at an integrated management plan is a good starting point in sharing an outcome of the connecting practice project? Seeing a tangible product which encapsulates the lessons learnt on a particular site would certainly be interesting to look at. From the Connecting Practice chapter as part of the reading (Leiticia et al; 2019 p 6) on the Drakensberg Case Study in South Africa:Being part of the Connecting Practice offered park management a unique opportunity to realise a need to develop one all-encompassing and ‘genuine’ Integrated Management Plan for the Park which will allocate equal significance and equal status to both the natural and cultural values of the Park.Has this Integrated Management Plan been done already? If so, perhaps that’s a good one to share with the group? LL: Regarding the question on the integrated management plan for Maloti-Drakensberg, I would expect the plan to have been completed by now and even started to be implemented, since I saw a draft of it almost two years ago. That said, I would be careful on promoting it as an example (as I am each time that people ask me for good examples of management plans!). To me, more than the content of the management plan, what was important was the will to come up with an “encompassing” plan because it was a first step (and major step) to bridge existing institutional divides. It meant that two different institutions agreed to work together in a planned organized way with shared objectives. 

Circulated pre-reading: 

Recommended reading: 

Buckley, Kristal, Gwenaëlle Bourdin, Maureen Thibault, Leanna Wigboldus, Luisa DeMarco, and Tim Badman. “Connecting Practice: operationalizing concepts and strategies for integrating nature and cultural heritage in the World Heritage Convention”. In N. Mitchell, et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the US/ICOMOS International Symposium Forward Together: A Culture-NatureJourney Toward More Effective Conservation in a Changing World, 13-14November 2018, The Presidio, San Francisco, California, 2019. (Attached as a pdf)

Leitão, Leticia, LeannaWigboldus, GwenaëlleBourdin, Tim Badman, Zsuzsa Tolnay, and Oscar Mthimkhulu. “ConnectingPractice: Defining new methods and strategies to further integrate natural and cultural heritage under the World Heritage Convention.” In Bas Verschuuren and Steve Brown (Eds.)Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in Protected Areas,Governance, Management and Policy, 151-163.London and New York:Routledge, 2019. (Attached as a pdf)

Further reading: 

For an overview of the three phases of Connecting Practice project, see the attached pdf and presentation on the Connecting Practice project, given by Maureen Thibault of the ICOMOSInternational Secretariat at the CultureNature Journey Webinar organized by the ICOMOS EPWG (Emerging Professionals Working Group) on 16 May 2020. Please refer to minutes 18:45-51:17 for Maureen’s presentation.

Leitão,Leticia, Gwenaëlle Bourdin, Tim Badman, and Leanna Wigboldus. Connecting Practice Phase II: Final Report. ICOMOS/IUCN, 2017. (available in English, French and Chinese), see

This meeting: Connecting Practice

Nupur Prothi Khanna, Leticia Leitao, Carlo Ossola, and Gwaenelle Bourdin 

29 June 2020 8PM GMT

The next meeting: Integrative Approaches to Nature and Culture in Rural Landscapes

Mary Laheen, Brenda Barrett, and Jessica Brown

27 July 2020 1 PM GMT


US Public Lands: Where to Now?

By Brenda Barrett August 3, 2020

The government of the United States of America owns about 640 million acres of land or about 28% of the total land mass of the country. This is our great legacy of public lands. However, especially for those who do not live among them, these lands are subject to many misconceptions.  For example, I am always surprised that even my graduate students think that most public lands are National Parks when actually they are only 3.7 percent of the country.  Many people do not know the difference between the Forest Service and the Park Service. They think that all National Monuments are National Parks. They have never even heard of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), let alone its multiple use mission. No wonder getting everyone’s attention on the issues facing public lands is so hard. 

Want to learn more? REI, the recreational equipment company, has developed a handy, dandy guide to understanding public lands.  

Courtesy of USGS

Once you grasp the scope of the public landscape, then those interested in landscape conservation might want to wade into the weeds of what is really happening on our public lands. As we head towards the 2020 elections, this is very important and here are just a few issues we need to keep an eye on.

Some good news

Caring for our public lands takes money and, over the past decades, there has been systematic disinvestment in maintenance and improvements of our public resources. However, with the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, there is finally some good news. For the first time, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) will be permanently funded at $900 million annually. The act also established the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund and provides dedicated funding to address the deferred maintenance at the National Park Service and for other public lands such as the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Education. Specifically,  it would queue up $6.5 billion for the National Park Service to use in tackling backlogged maintenance work.

How will the money be distributed across the 419 units of the National Park System? Well, according to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Yosemite National Park alone had roughly $645 million in backlogged maintenance at the end of FY18, Yellowstone’s tally was $585.5 million, and the National Mall and Memorial Parks had nearly $655 million. Those three units could use the first $1.5 billion installment. That does not even count the staggering cost to rebuild parkways, roads and bridges throughout the National Park System. So, the money will go fast, but, all in all, this is very good news.

Not So Good News

The current administration has been pushing energy development through an aggressive leasing program particularly for oil and gas on public lands usually under the control of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This action will, in effect, will lock up these lands for one use – energy extraction- for often ten or more years. It also will have an adverse effect on the cultural and natural resources on BLM lands as well as on the landscape of adjacent national parks. Just one example, in the fall of 2020, the BLM plans to offer 110,000 acres for lease adjacent to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. For more information listen to the National Park Traveler’s interview with Erika Pollard staff at the National Parks Conservation Association.

Courtesy NPCA

One of the most controversial actions of the administration has been the reduction of the boundaries of our national monuments.  Two of the national monuments, in particular Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both in southern Utah were reduced by nearly two million acres. Lands rich in archaeological, paleontological, cultural, and natural significance are now open to open to uranium mining, oil and gas drilling, road construction, and the use of mechanized vehicles. In February 2020, BLM finalized plans to open lands formerly in the two monuments to oil and gas leasing. 

The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is that public lands are under greater threat than ever and the next six months will be crtical. 

Where to Now?

Now is the time that many who care about our public lands and landscape scale work are thinking about transition. What might the next four years look like. Depending on the outcome of the national elections, it may be more of the above. Or if there is a change in leadership, what are a few ideas for the future?

Reform the system of oil and gas leasing – The Oil and Gas leasing system on public lands is one hundred years old and needs to rethought.  Legislation has already been introduced to require the BLM to issue all oil and gas leases through competitive auction, ending inefficient noncompetitive leasing. These leases are commonly purchased by speculators and tie up public lands for up to 10 years. In addition, safeguards should be put in place to prevent leasing around National Parks and other heritage sites. Action on these issues and more is needed

Roll back bad decisions – Some candidates include the boundary reductions for National Monuments and National Marine Reserves, the changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that reduce transparency and public involvement, and the many policy decisions that reduce protection for endangered species and their habitat. And of course, adopting adequate budgets. The National Park Service will not be able to tackle needed maintenance and repairs without the staff to do the work.  While this sounds straight forward, it is a big lift.

Partner with State Conservation Agencies – Over the past four years former landscape scale initiatives at the Federal level like the Collaborative Conservation approach and the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives have been abandoned and defunded. However, many states have continued some form of landscape scale work. In addition, states will now be benefitting from significantly more money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. National conservation efforts should reach out to states as full partners and recognize their important role.

Focus on equity and inclusion – As the country grapples with the difficult issues of race and class, so too has the conservation movement. Conversations are happening all over the country and there are no easy answers. One step in the right direction is the work of the Network for Landscape Conservation’s Catalysts Fund, which reserves some of its funds for indigenous led conservation partnerships. Also, being proposed are ideas for pandemic recovery efforts such as investing in green infrastructure in disadvantaged communities and workforce development.

In August 2016, the Living Landscape Observer published an article titled Landscape Conservation the Next Four Years. It has been interesting to look back on its predictions. One of which stated that “The greatest divergence between the two parties (Democrats and Republicans) is the protection of public lands.” It went on to say, “it is a fair to read the Republican platform as saying that public lands might receive a lot less protection.” This has turned out to be true. Let’s see if we can do a better job in the next four years. 


Stemming the Tide: Global Strategies for Sustaining Cultural Heritage Through Climate Change

By Brenda Barrett June 26, 2020

On March 5, 2020 the Smithsonian Institution, along with other partners, sponsored a symposium,  Stemming the Tide. It tackled two sides of the climate crisis on the world’s cultural heritage – the threat to the resources themselves and potential value of these resources as a source of resilience to address climate change. The event brought together a lineup of inspiring speakers to empower cultural heritage authorities, managers, and advocates to pursue more ambitious engagement and collaborative approaches to this global threat.

Climate Change and Natural Resources

Since the 1990s, research on climate change and efforts to reduce its impacts has expanded and grown, linking many fields. Early on, natural resources were identified as both at risk from climate change and as offering effective nature-based solutions to it. National and international nature conservation organizations made tackling this issue a priority.

In 2009, recognizing the threat would be best tackled on a landscape scale, the Department of Interior (DOI) launched the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC). The intent of this program was to bridge jurisdictional boundaries across agencies within DOI as well as across other federal, state, and tribal agencies and private lands. The LCCs consist of 22 individual, self-directed conservation areas that cover all of the U.S. including islands, and parts of Canada, Mexico and Pacific Islands. One of the primary goals of the effort was to create “An ecologically connected network of landscapes and seascapes adaptable to global change—such as climate change—with the ability to sustain ecological integrity and health to meet the needs of society at multiple scales.” (For more information on the LCCs see the article on a National Academy review of the program in the Living Landscape Observer) 

Other agencies whose missions include natural resource conservation developed more targeted plans.  In 2010, the National Park Service issued a Climate Change Response Strategy stating unequivocally that global climate change was the greatest threat to the integrity of the national parks. The report focused on four integrated components: science, adaptation, mitigation, and communication, all primarily based on climate changes’ impacts on natural resources. 

Climate Change and Cultural Resources

Interestingly, it was the Union of Concerned Scientists that sounded the alarm on the threat to cultural resources with its 2014 report, National Landmarks at Risk: How Rising Seas, Floods, and Wildfires Are Threatening the United States’ Most Cherished Historic Sites.  Focusing on iconic and historic sites at risk from Ellis Island to the Everglades, Cape Canaveral to California’s César Chávez National Monument, the report  concluded that these sites and thousands of other face a perilous and uncertain future. 

In the same year (2014) the National Park Service issued a policy memorandum, Climate Change and Stewardship of Cultural Resourcesit outlined the agency’s response to the impact of climate change on cultural resources. The agency followed this in 2017 with the release of Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy  as the next step in implementing the stewardship and preservation program mandates of the earlier policy memorandum. 

More recently the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) released a report, The Future of Our Pasts:  Engaging Cultural Heritage in Climate Action (2019),  that summarized the work of both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in recognizing culture and heritage. The report noted that these documents gave unprecedented recognition to the role that these values can play in helping guide the world toward a transition to new patterns of living, production and consumption. The report emphasizes the need for the work of the cultural community to be both participatory and people centered.

The symposium, Stemming the Tide: Global Strategies for Sustaining Cultural Heritage Through Climate Change, is the next step in enlisting cultural heritage in our efforts to address our changing climate. As one of the speakers concluded “Culture is critical as this is a human problem and will take us as human beings to solve it,”  All of the speakers’ presentations are available on a YouTube playlist and are worth watching. Additional proceedings from the second day breakout sessions on the six categories of cultural heritage identified by the ICOMOS will be available in the future.

Want to learn more and make a difference? Consider joining The Climate Heritage Network a voluntary, mutual support network of arts, culture and heritage organizations committed to aiding their communities in tackling climate change and achieving the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.


The Impact of the Pandemic on Agricultural Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett May 13, 2020

Storm Clouds over Iowa Farm Credit Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Everyone agrees that the world will look very different after the current crisis. One change that should have been foreseen, but was not widely predicted was the impact on agriculture. The underlying structural problems facing the farming community worldwide are well known, but under appreciated. The World Rural Landscape Principles  identified these threats as an aging farmer population, critical labor shortages, global market forces, urbanization, and, of course, the climate change. 

Eat the view

In 2002, Natural England launched its Eat the View campaign. It aimed to harness the power of the market to encourage greater production and consumption of products to help protect and enhance the iconic English countryside. This idea that rural landscapes have value is shared around the globe. Working landscapes are seen as a treasured heritage resource for the food they produce, but also for their sense of place, their scenic beauty, and, in some cases, their outstanding universal value. It is estimated by the World Heritage Center that more than 13 % of all World Heritage inscribed sites contain an agricultural component. For cultural landscapes, the number is much higher – estimated at over 75%. Designated sites range from tea growing landscapes in Asia, pastoral landscapes around the Mediterranean, sites of early agriculture in Papua New Guinea, to wine producing regions around the globe. 

These landscapes are seen as deserving special heritage designations and, in Europe at least, as deserving special consideration as protected areas through programs such as the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Britain and Parc Naturels Reginaux in France. Even in the United States a recent review found that close to 90 national park units allow some form of agricultural production and/or traditional subsistence activities or roughly 1/5 of all national park units. These agricultural features are often an integral part of the interpretation of the park landscape. 

No Farms No Food 

In many ways, the most valuable aspect of these agricultural landscapes is what the land produces and the people and communities that make it possible. Food is not just about calories per bushel, but is the embodiment of a region’s living heritage.  Food ways are recognized by UNESCO as part of its list of Intangible Heritage  and food is an integral part of national identity and community life as well as an important element of the economic driver of travel and tourism. 

Every crisis brings its own unique problems. And while it was obvious that the current pandemic would have a serious and global impact on all kinds of markets, Americans, at least, were assured early on that food supplies would not be a problem. A March 15, 2020 article in the New York Times   reassured readers that ‘There is Plenty of Food in this Country’. At first that was true and the only shortages were caused by an ill-informed desire to hoard toilet paper. Then, with remarkable swiftness, the pandemic attacked one of the weakest links in the chain – the agricultural labor force. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 21, 202O that “Borders Closed by Virus Imperil European Farming”. The article noted that the dependence of the European Union on seasonal labor from poorer nations and the need to transport goods to cross border markets were all adversely impacting the agricultural sector. 

Industrial Farming Credit Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

The Journal went on to say somewhat smugly that the situation United States was less acute because famers have embraced automation and grow more bulk crops. Of course, this statement was looking at agricultural production in the aggregate not acknowledging that harvesting field corn and soybeans requires very different techniques than crops grown for human consumption. These crops require lots of hand labor provided by over 1 million laborers of which between 50-70% are undocumented immigrants who face increasing uncertainty about their status.

The US has other problems, which are now assuming disastrous proportions. Farm sales depend, in large part, on Industrialized large-scale food production plants that market to institutions like schools and chain restaurants. As these buyers closed down during the pandemic, processing plants have found it hard to retool for individual consumption. Then the virus struck giant meat processing facilities across the country.  In late April 2020, three processing companies Tyson, JBS, and Smithfield closed 15 plants, each of the plants employ thousands of workers and process thousands of animals. The closures devasted rural communities and threatening the nation’s supply of beef and pork. 

Some of the highest infection rates in the US are now found in rural areas with such factories. By early May 2020, over 10,000 employees had tested positive for Covid-19 and meat production was down 25%. Farmers accustomed to raising beef, pork, and chickens in vast quantities on a just in time delivery schedule were stuck with no buyers.  

While the US Department of Agriculture has set aside $19 billion to provide immediate relief funds for critical support to farmers and ranchers and maintain the integrity of the food supply chain, agriculture already weakened by the current administration’s trade war with China is struggling.  This is, as the press likes to say, a “developing story.” Most recently the US President used his executive powers to order food processing plants to open. However, workers, many undocumented with no health insurance, sick leave, or other protections, are wary of the crowded assembly lines and high risk of infection.

With surprising speed, the weaknesses of our global food supply have been exposed. While some of the central issues are our dependence on poorly paid seasonal labor and equally poorly treated workers in the food processing industry, change will only come if we look at our whole food production in a new way. Is it safe? Where did it come from? Who prepared it for the table? Will it always be available?

Food Coop Decorah Iowa

 “When this is over”

This phrase is a charm to reassure everyone that this is temporary and that soon we will go back to the world as we knew it.  Restaurants will be offering fast food cheap, supermarkets will be packed with the usual items, and we all will forget this moment. Or will this be the launching pad for a new food system – one that has been struggling to emerge for decades? While these questions have global relevance, the answers are most pressing in the United States. 

  • Will locally grown food become a bigger share of the market and of the consumer diet? Already growing on the East and West Coast and in pockets across the nation, the eat local movement has been given a huge boost by the pandemic. Families are concerned about the safety, the availability, and, as more cook at home, the quality of their food. In Europe, they are already talking about looking at the value chain used to ship goods across the continent. How can communities expand local close-to-home production as more sustainable and resilient? As the European Union Agricultural Commissioner said in the Wall Street Journal on April 21, 2020 “we need to shorten the distance from Farm to Fork.” In the US, local farm markets and small grazing operations report having a door busting year and the season has hardly begun.
  • Will the number of close to home processing and food hubs increase? In the past, one of the biggest barriers to the success of small family farms as a going business and for the consumer to access fresh local food was making the buyer-seller connection more efficient. Yes, Community Supported Agriculture schemes, local farm markets, and other direct sales options were a good start. However, now new small-scale regional distribution systems are growing rapidly and take distribution to the next level. These ‘food hubs’ act as low-cost middle men and allow farmers to focus on growing not selling. New online sales platforms for farmers like Local Lines have been growing exponentially to meet the need. The small-scale butcher shops and slaughterhouses are suddenly local treasures. 
  • Will the agricultural landscape that has been an endangered resource for years become a valued part of our heritage? The answer to this question is the most unknowable. The traditional American landscape of family farms and ranches have been eroded for generations through consolidation, abandonment and urbanization.  Programs such as the ones in Europe that support the retention of the countryside just do not exist. In general, agricultural landscapes have not been seen worthy of preservation as part of our national heritage. But maybe if we rebuild our connection to the food they produce, the people that produce the food, and the places themselves, there will be change of heart. Perhaps, as in other parts of the world, these iconic cultural landscapes will gain the recognition they deserve.  

A recent article on the Pandemic wondered if the future of food will bring a time when:

“Linear supply chains are replaced by circular ones, agriculture is transformed from an extractive to a regenerative activity, and ecosystems are treasured for what they truly are — the source of all life — rather than for just the economic services they provide.”

Only time will tell.


While we were not watching…

By Brenda Barrett April 1, 2020
Bureau of Land Management File Photograph

Understandably the country and the world’s attention has been riveted on the inexorable spread of the Coronavirus, but what else might be happening when our attention is distracted?

As is so often the case, the United States’ National Parks is one topic that has attracted public scrutiny.  As reported in a recent podcast (March 22, 2020) by the National Parks Traveler,  the current administration’s management of U.S. parks seems emblematic of the overall federal government response to this national emergency.

Even before the pandemic, the long-standing authority of park superintendents to decide when to open and close facilities had been rescinded. Park managers were forced to submit any closure requests up through a multilevel chain of command. Now, confronted by this crisis, Dr. John Freemuth, a former park ranger and Environment and Public Lands Chair at Boise State University, opined that the response of the NPS and other land managing agencies appears to be driven by a sloppy “ ad hoc, unfocused centralized policy” not reflective of conditions on the ground.

The administration’s widely touted announcement that all national Parks would now be free has only made things worse. All experts on the podcast agreed that giving superintendents the authority on how to manage parks was critical. More recently, the Department of Interior has backed off on some of the restrictions on closing facilities and even whole parks. However, the issue is still uncertain as this developing story (March 26, 2020) about the status Grand Canyon National Park illustrates.

Also – no surprise – while all this has been going on, the Wall Street Journal (March 25 2020) reported that the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to waive compliance requirements and deadlines for a range of industries including oil refineries, water utilities, and sewer plants. A close reading of the article reveals that the waivers revolve around the current requirements for industries to switch to less polluting fuel oil, which is required in the summer season. Waivers according to the American Petroleum Institute will provide temporary relief to the industry as consumer demand for oil plummets. 

However, these are just a few of the current threats to the environment and public lands. Of even bigger concern are ongoing efforts to dismantle well established conservation programs. These include:

  • Reduction in the size of National Monuments — In 2017, the administration launched a review of 21 national monuments. The most publicized outcome of which has been the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. Within the borders of this monument alone, the potential losses of cultural and natural resources are tremendous. In addition, the landscapes of this monument and many others have ongoing cultural importance for many Indigenous peoples in the region. The issue of the reducing the monument boundaries is still in active litigation. 
  • Abolishing the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives – The administration has withdrawn funding for this innovative and successful conservation program in direct contradiction of instructions from Congress. The program was a comprehensive strategy to tackle big-picture issues affecting huge swaths of the US, such as climate change, flooding and species extinction. Most are now on indefinite hiatus or have been dissolved.    
  • Savage Budget cuts for all conservation programs- The most recent Administration’s budget includes a roughly $1.4 billion cut to the Department of Interior and far deeper cuts to the Department of Agriculture: combined the two agencies own and manage more than 700 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West.  

What to do?

  1. Just stop it.  One idea that is gaining traction is a call to  suspend ongoing comment periods and leave all regulations in place, halt oil and gas lease sales, and delay new policy proposals in the current emergency.  Another obvious step is for the Department of the Interior (DOI) to close  national parks for the protection of park employees and visitors. The Department of Interior cannot continue to operate under a “business as usual” mentality in regards to these other issues.

2. Support Organizations that Care. Let me suggest some of my favorite places to find like-minded people with powerful ideas. And while you at it, consider making a donation.

  • The National Parks Traveler  An editorially independent nonprofit media organization, its online site and newsletter are dedicated to covering primarily US National Park issues on a daily basis. A good source for up to the minute news on parks and protected areas.

  • The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks    This small but, high profile organization that represents over 1,800 current, former and retired park staff and has an effective record of advocating for National Parks issues. In last three years they have tackled high profile issues from energy extraction impacts to protecting park visitors and staff. 
  •  Network for Large Landscape Conservation  A broad based coalition established to advance the practice of large landscape conservation across all sectors and geographies. Its strength is in the diversity of individuals and organizations that are actively engaged and who are creating a collective body of knowledge, experience, and commitment to advancing conservation at the landscape scale. 
  • Preservation Action  A small organization, but a big advocate for historic preservation issues. The source for the latest information on legislation and policy matters in the field of cultural resources.    
  • US ICOMOS  Maintaining our connections to global heritage is more important than ever. US/ICOMOS opens the door to international best practices through knowledge exchanges, scientific committees, symposiums, and the organization’s well-respected international exchange program for students and young professionals. 

3) Strategize for the Future. Let’s use this challenging time to take stock and respond to the dismantling of Federal programs and partnerships that support landscape work by developing a more unified platform and a bigger vision. We should craft an agenda that merges the approaches of nature and culture conservation not just for protected lands, but for all valued places. A strategy that engages public and private partners and incorporates our lived-in landscapes with the goal of achieving conservation at scale. We can dream, can’t we?

N.B. The Living Landscape Observer is not the only one to point out this unraveling environmental catastrophe. Writing in Outside Online  Wes Siler catalogs other actions such as selling oil and gas leases at rock bottom prices, shutting down federal advisory committees and allowing violations of the Migratory Bird Act.


Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscapes: A Story of Success

By Brenda Barrett February 26, 2020
Laurel Highland Conservation Landscape
Courtesy: Pennsylvania Environmental Council

Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscapes program was launched more than a decade ago to connect people to the Commonwealth’s rich heritage of parks and forests. Today with seven designated Conservation Landscapes, it is a model of landscape scale resource management.

While the seven landscapes are unique, all share certain key commonalities. Each is centered around public lands, including local or state parks, state forests, or the long-distance trail systems for which the state is famous. Each encompasses a much larger lived in landscape and actively engages community members and other local partners in resource conservation and sustainable economic development.  The goals and work-plans for the seven landscapes reflect regional needs based on community priorities. 

For example, many of the Conservation Landscapes in the more developed eastern part of the state, where there is far less public land, work closely with regional land trusts on conservation and acquisition initiatives. In the western part of the state, which has faced long-term de-industrialization, the focus is more on community revitalization through tourism and small business development. All of the landscapes feature projects to encourage resource stewardship and outdoor recreation for the enjoyment of both local residents and visitors. Each landscape has a distinctive story to tell and a wide range of partners. 

Courtesy: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources

Why has this program endured and thrived through different political administrations and changing local leadership? One reason is the consistent support of a state agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. It has made it a priority by both dedicating staff to on the ground leadership roles and providing dependable grant funding. And this is not just any state agency, but one that is rooted in place with a long and distinguished history of public lands management. While many community development initiatives come and go, the Conservation Landscapes link community and public natural resources to the long-term benefit of both.

Another factor is the adaptability of the program leadership to local conditions and new opportunities. This is particularly true for the oldest landscape, the Pennsylvania Wilds, that has established an innovative PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship with the mission of integrating conservation and economic development to strengthen and inspire communities.  The center has attracted diverse funding and launched a wide range of community enrichment programs. A final indicator of success is that the program is still expanding. A new Conservation Landscape along the Kittatinny Ridge is currently under development and others are under consideration.

A recent report Conservation Landscapes: Models of Successful Collaboration identified a number of  the specific factors that have made the program so successful as well as some recommendations for the future. These were:

  • Leadership Role of State Government – DCNR has been the driving force in convening and sustaining landscape conservation work. The agency’s role has been essential—as a primary landowner, convener and facilitator, a force for marshalling resources, and a vehicle for aligning policy and spreading lessons learned.
  • Consistent Staff and Financial Support – DCNR has underpinned the program with committed staff and annual funding allocations. The durability and success of the program is in many ways attributable to the sustained investment in ensuring that each Conservation Landscape has dedicated staff leadership.
  • Holistic Perspective – The program stands out as addressing the social and economic needs of communities as well as natural resource conservation values. This underscores the value in convening a holistic conversation about how communities wish to see their futures unfold—and how the surrounding landscapes are central to those futures.
  • Innovative Place-based Projects – Each of the landscapes has been encouraged to develop programs that meet the priorities of local communities and regional conditions. This recognition of the importance of local context has allowed each landscape to forge genuine collaborations focused on the future of the specific region. 
  • Adaptive Management – All landscapes were found to be meeting their benchmarks including partner consultation, and effective administration of grant programs and funding opportunities. Many landscapes have gone through a re-assessing of their goals and governance. This ability to make needed course adjustment is a sign of strength. 
  • Connection to Conservation Challenges – The Conservation Landscape approach could play a more significant part in tackling landscape-scale issues like climate change, invasive species, and resilient infrastructure.
  • Measuring Success – Evaluation and measurement of impact has been under-attended to across the Conservation Landscape program. Better measurement and communication of outcomes will more concretely document the value and impact of a landscape approach. 

“We believe that the landscape-scale approach, now more than 15 years in practice, is well positioned to help Pennsylvania tackle the most challenging problems such as watershed protection, and our changing climate and its impacts on infrastructure, wildlife, and health,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “As we strive to accelerate the pace and scale of conservation efforts, a good understanding of what makes landscape efforts successful is critical.”

Read the full report here: Conservation Landscapes:Models of Successful Collaboration

Cooks Forest State Park
Pennsylvania Wilds

The Conservation Landscape approach is an exceptional melding of natural resource conservation with collaborative community people centered strategies that has resulted in long term sustainability.  With continued investment and some small adjustments, the Conservation Landscape approach is poised to achieve accelerated impact and to tackle challenges such as the changing climate and its impacts on infrastructure, wildlife, and health as well as conserving the landscapes where people live, work and play.


Flagging Sites of Universal Value

By Brenda Barrett January 27, 2020
Persepolis World Heritage Site Iran (listed 1979) Photograph: Wikipedia

The escalating tensions with Iran following the drone strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani lead to President Trump issuing a tweet that threatened to target 52 Iranian cultural and historical properties. This proposal was widely condemned by national and international cultural and heritage organizations and later was retracted by the US administration. In addition to condemnation, this threat also generated much discussion about how to best respond.

A reader of the Living Landscape Observer forwarded one idea that she noted “went straight to my heart.” Iranian architect and artist Mohammad Hassan Forouzanfar envisioned a conceptual project titled “Peace.” It imagined white flags raised over all the  UNESCO-listed world heritage sites in Iran to highlight the importance of these irreplaceable buildings and landscapes.  His vision is portrayed in the online magazine designboom. Take a look at it there!

 Our reader then went on to note that the idea might have relevance to protecting all parks, protected areas, and environmental sites that are at risk. What would we think about draping marking them all with white flags? She concludes by asking “Where is Cristo when we need him?”.

Identifying sites of artistic and scientific, and historical properties to further their protection in times of war is not a new idea.  The Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments – sometimes known as the Roerich Pact – is an inter-American treaty that was adopted in the 1930s.  This pact is noteworthy as the first international treaty dedicated to the protection of artistic and scientific institutions and historical monuments. It was signed into law by the United States and most nations of the Pan-American Union. After World War II, the Roerich Pact played an important role in the creation of international law and standards in the field of protection of cultural heritage. In 1949, at the fourth UNESCO General Conference, a decision was made to develop a body of international law and regulation in the field of cultural heritage protection in case of armed conflict.

It is interesting to know that a flag to mark sites of cultural value known as the “Peace Banner” was proposed by the moving force behind the original treaty, Nicholas Roerich. It was also a white flag, but with three large red dots enclosed in a circle. Ultimately, the flag was never adopted. Today with the ability to tag sites with geolocators and other technology perhaps it is no longer the most effective approach – yet, the principle of protecting the world’s heritage is still critically important. Anything that draws attention to the issue is welcome.


Conservation and Controversy: Agricultural Landscapes of Marin County CA

By Brenda Barrett January 26, 2020
Farming Landscape Marin County CA

The San Francisco Bay Area has an extraordinarily rich and diverse food system that is an integral part of the region’s economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and regional identity. A recent white paper estimated the annual value of the food economy to be around $113 billion, employing close to half a million people, around 13 percent of the region’s workforce.  While Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is only one part of this system, it is nationally known for the quality of its food products. However, not so long ago, the county’s agriculture lands and open space were threatened by rampant development

The powerful book Farming on the Edge: Saving Family Farms in Marin County by John Hart (University of California Berkeley 1991) recounts the early efforts to save the region from over-development. In his foreword to the book, Wendell Berry writes that the success of these open space initiatives “Brings tears to your eyes.” He notes that the landscape would not have been saved if the conservationists and the country people had not made common cause.  And he concludes that his one wish for the future is that there would be more conversation about the value of locally produced food. He opines that “Securest guarantee of the long-term good health of both farmland and city is, I believe, locally produced food.”

Cowgirl Creamery stand at the Tomales Store Point Reyes Station

Written more than thirty years ago, Berry’s dearest wish has indeed come true. Today Marin County’s locally and organically grown products are prominently featured in all the regional farm markets and restaurants. Food tourism is big business. Brands like Cow Girl Creamery are nationally known and the cheeses are so desirable that they have been acquired by international corporations.

Two strategies helped preserve the farmland. First, was the local government’s recognition of the need to act by adopting plans and appropriate zoning for agricultural conservation. Second, was the establishment of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, one of the earliest land trusts to focus on working lands in the country. Today the trust holds easements on 86 family farms and ranches protecting 54,209 acres. 

Ranch Point Reyes National Seashore

However, the future of one portion of the agricultural lands in Marin is still uncertain – the lands known as the Pastoral Zone of Point Reyes National Seashore. The back story of these now 13 farms and ranches in the northern section of the park is a long and winding tale.  Originally, the idea behind creating a system of National Seashores was to secure access to the coastline near large population centers for the scenic and recreational enjoyment of the public.

This was the goal when Point Reyes was designated in 1962. The existing ranching and agricultural uses of the land within the park boundaries, uses that dated back over 150 years, were not seen as incompatible with the establishment of the park. In the following decades, the National Park Service re-prioritized its attention to include a much greater focus on natural resource protection. The agency and many environmental activists began to raise concerns about the impact of farming and ranching practices on these resources. The debate only intensified following the controversial cancellation of a lease for harvesting oysters in Drake Estuary and the re-introduction of a now expanding Tule Elk herd into the park. Congress has weighed in on the side of continued ranching  and a number of environmental groups on the side of re-wilding.

The debate was framed as cattle or elk?

Tule Elk in the Pastoral Zone Point Reyes National Seashore

Over the years, the National Park Service response to this contentious issue has been to undertake more planning and environmental assessments. A final decision on the future of working lands within park boundaries now projected to be issued in the Spring of 2020. The preferred alternative from these plans seems to be a continuation of use for landowners with many caveats and proposed new measures for environmental protection, elk conservation etc… Seems sensible, but perhaps a more vigorous endorsement of the cultural value of the dairying and ranching with the park is what is really needed. In Farming on the Edge, Jon Hart writes that if agriculture is to survive in West Marin Point then Point Reyes cannot be be excluded – “Point Reyes, after all, had been the heartland, the first and famous dairy district, with the foggiest fog, the greenest grass and the most hospitable terrain”.

Cowgirl Creamery

Today, as when the above was written in 1991, the dairies on Point Reyes constitute a significant percentage of the milk production in the county. Of the county’s 23 dairies, 8 are within the park. This is not just a historic use, but an important part of the regional food web and what makes the region culturally significant. The Marin Agricultural Land Trust supports the importance of these properties for food production. In addition the organization makes the case for their environmental value as a managed coastal grassland for habitat for endangered species, for sequestering carbon, storing water, supporting pollinators and keeping invasive plant species in check

 In conclusion, perhaps we need to revisit Wendell Berry’s 1991 wishes and words of wisdom about the value of a local agricultural economy. “Such an economy would make practical and economic connections between the people of the farms and the people of the city. These connections are necessary, and they imply further connections of mind and spirit.” Decades later one of the founders of Cowgirl Creamery Sue Conley agrees, “The ranches have contributed significantly to the sustainable food scene” in the area. It’s a great model to have working farms in a national seashore, connecting consumers with farmers. There’s a consciousness that comes from being around nature and farming that’s really important to urban life.” 

Unfortunately, this vision of what our parks and protected areas should be striving for is not yet in the tradition of the US National Park Service. Our current model gives a thumbs up to scenery, recreation, natural resource protection, and even historic properties, but there is no provision for living and working landscapes such as they have in Europe and other parks across the globe. Now we just need the National Park Service to add this to the values for which our parks were created.

Note:  For an in depth discussion of the challenges the National Park Service has faced and still faces today, see the excellent book by Laura Watts The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore University of California Press 2016.


Climate Change and Heritage Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett December 18, 2019
Blackwater National Wildlife Sanctuary Photo Courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program

Our changing climate is causing radical alteration to the earth’s ecosystems and the focus has been on the impact to flora and fauna.  Less recognized have been the impacts that are wrought on our treasured cultural landscape. However, as the climate threat looms larger the discussion is broadening to look at cultural heritage impacts.  Recently, the Cultural Landscape Foundation  issued a compelling report highlighting the risk faced by some of our nation’s is iconic cultural landscapes. 

Harriet Tubman National Monument Visitors Center Courtey Accroian

  For example, on the Eastern shore of Maryland in  Dorchester County the Harriet Tubman National Monument commemorates the story of the legendary abolitionist. It was into this landscape that she was born, from which she escaped, and to which she returned many times to lead other enslaved people to freedom. It is also the location of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge designated in 1933 as a sanctuary for birds migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. Today although this landscape has been designated as a protected area both its cultural and natural values are threatened by inexorable forces of climate change. Sea level rise and land subsidence have caused the refuge to lose over 5,000 acres of wetlands since its creation. There has been a marked increase ‘sunny day flooding’ that disrupts life throughout the region. These rising waters also cause increased salination of the soil that threatens both farming and forestry and makes storm surges more destructive.

 The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s 2019 edition of Landslide draws much needed attention to ten examples of landscapes across the nation endangered  by flooding, wildfires, regional drought, and other effects of human-induced climate change. As Charles A. Birnbaum, the Foundation’s President & CEO noted “Climate change is a widely acknowledged threat to natural and ecological systems, but the dire potential impacts on irreplaceable cultural systems and historic resources need greater attention and it requires action, now.”

It is also appropriate that former National Park Service Director John Jarvis wrote the introduction to this report. As the agency under his leadership rang early alarm bells about the risk of climate change to our National Parks and cultural resources specifically. In 2010 Jarvis called out climate change as “the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced” in 2014 the service issued Policy Memorandum 14-02, Climate Change and Stewardship of Cultural Resources. This included the following key points:  “(1) cultural resources are primary sources of data regarding human interactions with environmental change; and (2) changing climates affect the preservation and maintenance of cultural resources”.

The National Park then published a follow-on report Cultural Resource Climate Change Strategy   January 2017.  This report detailed a comprehensive strategy to gather information, asses the impacts, consider adaptation and mitigation, as well as communicate the seriousness of the threat to the public. It recognized that cultural resources and the stories and understanding they represent play an essential role in climate change communication. It also highlighted some of the cultural resources impacted by climate change including cultural landscapes such as Point Reyes National Seashore. 

This report, outlining a strategy for the park service to address climate change impact on cultural resources, was issued in January 2017. It was issued just in time, as the incoming national leadership made it clear it not taking the climate challenge to heart. However, these reports and other information are still accessible and the lack of action at the national government level does not mean nothing can be done.  In the United Sates, individual states, cities, and many nongovernmental organizations are now picking up the banner of responding to climate change overall. See such coalitions as America’s Pledge. And in further encouraging news, there is a lot happening on the international stage to focus attention on climate and heritage resources.

What follows is just a sampling of this forward momentum. At a recent gathering (October 24-25, 2019) in Edinburgh Scotland, arts, culture and heritage organizations from around the  world announced the formation of the Climate Heritage Network   The organization’s moto is “Cultural Heritage is a Climate Action Issue;  Climate Action is a Cultural Heritage Issue’. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is staffing this new network. This event was followed by the recent COP25 meeting in Madrid where the  new Network released its first action plan to help mobilize the arts, culture and heritage community. Dubbed the Madrid-to-Glasgow Arts, Culture and Heritage Climate Action Plan, its release kicks off a year of culture-based climate action that will culminate in 2020 at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. 

Arts, culture or heritage related business, university, nongovernmental organization or government office, all are invited to join the Network.   This is a great opportunity for those interested in conserving cultural landscapes to weigh in and become part of this worldwide effort.




Mesa Verde National Park: Reinterpreting a Landscape

By Brenda Barrett October 31, 2019
Ranger tour of Cliff Palace Mesa Verde National Park

The word landscape jumps out at you on many of the interpretative signs at Mesa Verde National Park and the real thing is before you at every overlook.  The park established in 1906, ten years before the creation of the National Park Service, was later designated as the first World Heritage cultural site in the United States (1978). The original motive for creating the park came out of a growing interest in the archaeology of the Southwest that also lead to the creation of national monuments such as Chaco Canyon, Bandelier, Hovenweep and Aztec Ruins.  What made Mesa Verde standout to the early settlers and explorers were the extensive ‘cliff houses and ancient ruins’. In 1892 the writer Frederick Chapin visited one of the larger sites and described it as “occupying a great oval space under a grand cliff wonderful to behold, appearing like an immense ruined castle with dismantled towers.” 

Mesa Verde National Park’s World Heritage Plaque prominently displayed at the entrance to the park’s Chapin Museum

 In part it was this cross-cultural comparison of the structures to European building types that focused attention on Mesa Verde as something special in North America – a place that needed to be preserved. This was not to say the that the artifacts associated with the site were not seen as important. In fact, the designation was made more urgent by the continued threat of pothunting and vandalism of the sites in the cliffs and on the mesa tops.

For years Mesa Verde National Park was described as a place shrouded in mystery. The people who lived there were portrayed as having suddenly abandoned the cliff dwelling and just disappeared. The builders were labeled the Anasazi a term derived from the Navajo word meaning ‘ancient ones’ or alternatively ‘ancient enemies’, which added to the confusion. Now we know that these people did not disappear, but migrated south to become the ancestors of the modern-day pueblo and Hopi people.  Today park interpretation refers to the cliff dwellers as Ancestral Puebloans who like so many people around the globe migrated to other places for other opportunities. 

Just as importantly, current research places the people of Mesa Verde in a much larger regional context. Settlements that date from between 350 BC and AD 1300, the span of settlement on Mesa Verde, are found throughout southwestern Colorado and in the Four Corners region. Current research also links the people of Mesa Verde to one of the centers of Puebloan culture Chaco Cultural National Historical Park  another World Heritage site (1987).  As our ranger said on a recent tour of Cliff Palace, by the 1200s the region had a larger population than live here today. He told us that if we could have looked out from the tops of the mesas at night, we would see the fires from towns and villages that spread to the horizon. This image helps visualize the peopling of the region at a landscape scale. 

Burned landscape on Wetherill Mesa

The newer interpretation gives visitors a better understanding of the past population of Mesa Verde, but does not answer the question of why did they leave the region after 1300s? Possibly for some the same threats that hover over the Mesa Verde today – changes in the environment and changes in climate. The park has not shied away from this topic. A recent study has shown that today’s hot and dry conditions in Mesa Verde have exceeded climates fluxes in the past.  A park resource manager noted that nearly 70% of the landscape in the 52,485-acre park has been altered in just the last few decades for reasons that tie directly back to climate change. Namely, drought-driven fires.h

This has had a severe impact on the mesa top landscape fires have been able to take hold that have burned off acres and acres of the pinon-juniper forests. While periodic droughts were common to the region in the past, the current level is unprecedented. A 2016 UNESCO report on World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate hspecifically identified the park as facing serious risks rising temperatures and declining rainfall. A combination could cause increased wildfires that might irreversibly damage the park. 

Banner at the entrance to the Park Museum

How is the park telling these newer stories? First, by recognizing the ancestral Puebloan roots of the people of Mesa Verde in park waysides and in ranger talks and programs,  and  also by offering  forthright statements on climate change. A prominent banner in the Chapin Museum states that while climate change has always been with us “Today the rate of change is greater than in any other time in the earth’s history.”

Mesa Verde National Park has relatively lower visitation (563,000 in 2018) compared to some other parks on the Colorado Plateau with over 1.5 million visors a year. However, it is no backwater when it comes to sharing the latest findings in history and science. 

Congratulations to all! 


Landscape Management: More than just Words

By Brenda Barrett September 25, 2019

Working on a landscape scale has numerous benefits. For example, it can aide in planning for climate change resilience, wild life corridor management, and cultural connectivity. However, one recent effort to facilitate landscape scale conservation has raised more questions than it answers. In 2018, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the Department of the Interior (DOI) would now be managed  as 12 Unified Regions , superceding the existing approaches used by each individual bureau within the agency. The stated goal of the change? To enable entities like the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct business more effectively and efficiently. 

More recently, in 2019, under a new Secretary David Bernhardt, the Department has adopted a revised vocabulary and a new version of the map.  The exact same 12 Unified Regions have been given a nice geographic gloss with names based roughly on watershed boundaries. The regions are now described as being “Rooted in the best science and focused on watersheds and ecosystems, the Interior Regions simplify how the Department is organized.”    However, in actual fact, nothing but the names have changed.  

Looking at budget documents is always instructive and this is where the gloves come off. No more nice talk about the best science here.  For example, in the Department of Interior 2020 Budget Request for the National Park Service, the new unified regions are justified as “making it easier for the public to do business with Interior.” And it is pretty obvious which members of the public are to be favored, as the document goes on to say: “As part of the reorganization reforms, Interior will relocate some bureau headquarters functions out West where the preponderance of Interior’s assets and acres are located.” The National Park Service (NPS), an agency that  has a portfolio of sites and programs that serve all 50 states and our territories, is specifically directed to assess what headquarters functions could be delivered more effectively “out West” and to identify staff and functions to be moved there.  Some regions, i.e. the West, are clearly more favored than others and science has nothing to do with it.

What is wrong with this picture? 

Well for one thing it costs money. Funding of $17.5 million was appropriated in Department of Interior FY19 Budget for Reorganization.  And more money is proposed in the 2020 Budget. This is not that much in Federal budget terms, but for chronically underfunded agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service it adds up. 

Loss of talent and expertise.  We do not have to guess what will happen to experienced staff in these reorganizations. A recent relocation of the science programs in the Department of Agriculture from Washington DC to Kansas City has already caused two thirds of the staff to leave. The research arm of the department is now in shambles.  The Department of Interior has ordered the relocation of over 200 Washington based Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to western locations such as Grand Junction CO. In recent testimony, William Perry Pendley, Acting Director of BLM, opined that ‘only’ 25% of the employees would reign or retire.  This hemorrhaging of professional staff caused Mick Mulvaney the Administration’s Director Office of Management and Budget to quip this a great way to streamline government. See our recent article on the uncertain future of the BLM’s conservation mission.  

Serving which Public Interest?  Working on a landscape level is a good thing. After all it was less than a decade ago that the Department of Interior launched the Landscape Conservation Cooperative Network   with goal of building connections to tackle large scale and long-term conservation challenges.  However, that program is now history and the new ‘regionalization’ seems to have a different outcome in mind. As was recently reported BLM  will now be sharing an office building in Grand Junction with Chevron corporate office, Colorado Oil and Gas Association and an independent natural gas exploration company. The legislative, budget and national program staff from BLM, who had worked closely with Congress, will now be based in town without even a direct airline connection to DC, but just down the hall from ‘interests in the West’.

And it is not just BLM. Remember there is a directive and money in the FY 2020 Federal budget for the NPS to focus on what functions can be delivered ‘out West’. It is hard to see how this is approach is rooted in the best science and it is certainly not based on most effective governance to conserve the landscapes that the American people treasure.  


‘Memorial Park’ Carlisle PA

By Brenda Barrett April 28, 2019
Small Plaque commemoration some of the burials in ‘Memorial Park’

Memorial Park in the peaceful central Pennsylvania town of Carlisle is just one example of the tragic fate of many African American burial grounds. The site of this park was once the Lincoln Cemetery. It was used by the African American community between 1840 and the early 1900s. While the number of burials is not known, they probably numbered in the hundreds including 35 former United States Colored Troops (USCT) veterans.

In 1971, the Lincoln Cemetery had fallen into disuse and was seemingly abandoned. The Borough of Carlisle, under pressure to provide more recreational opportunities for under-served neighborhoods, proposed to create a recreational park on the site.  The Borough applied to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for grant assistance and received two grants from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund – one for planning and another for construction of a park. Despite some controversy, the grant project went forward. The headstones were removed by the Borough, and their whereabouts are still unknown. None of the burials were moved and remain in the ground underneath the park. The final park design moved the playground to the edge of the site and today features some landscaping, a sitting area, and walking path.  All that marks the site’s former status as a cemetery is a memorial plaque and one headstone whose family fought to maintain it on the site.

But the memory of what was once there still remained as a point of concern in the primarily African American neighborhoods that surrounds the park. Recently, the Cumberland County Historical Society located in Carlisle, with financial assistance from the Heart and Soul Project, announced that they will try and identify the names of the people buried at the site.  They are also looking at ways to reinterpret the park as hallowed ground that respects the dead and not just as a recreational site.

‘Memorial Park’ is just one of many examples of why the proposed African American Burial Grounds Network legislation is so needed.  While it is to be hoped that today, no local, state or federal grant administrator would have proceeded with this project, it does illustrate powerful lessons.  As citizens and heritage professionals, we need to carefully read the landscape and be aware of the special challenges in conserving African American sites and cemeteries. This also demonstrates how critical it is to engage in a deep and respectful way with the affected community. Building awareness and witnessing to past events is the first step.

Bonus Material

There is a powerful video created by a Dickinson College student that narrates the story of one USCT veteran who was buried in the Lincoln Cemetery.


The Crying Need to Establish an African American Burial Grounds Network

By Brenda Barrett April 28, 2019

Historic Lincoln Cemtery Mechanicsburg Pennsylvania (Carilse Sentinel)

Across the nation the same story pops up every month or so – developers clearing ground for a housing project, a big box store, or a parking garage, take your pick, uncover a formerly unidentified burial ground. Everything stops. Archeologists, city planners and historian weigh in and, in my experience, the majority of the time the burials are found to be associated with a former African American community.  This phenomenon is so common that the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), whose members are often at the center of the storm after discovery, even prepared a series of best practices to deal with the situation.

However, this after-the-fact approach, while better than nothing, is not ideal. For this reason, the Society in partnership with many in the African American community looked for a more comprehensive solution. As J.W. Joseph, PhD, RPA and the SHA’s Past President noted, “West African traditions place a strong emphasis on the connection between the living and the dead and the need for the living to maintain and respect the burial places of their ancestors.  There are too few African American spaces on our nation’s landscape – in this time of racial tension we hope Congress will pass this Act and provide descendant communities with the resources needed to maintain and restore the places that are important to them.”

Working with Congress and the National Park Service, innovative legislation was drafted to establish the African American Burial Grounds Network. The bill was introduced by dedicated sponsors Representatives Alma S. Adams (NC-12) and A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) who recognized the issues as important to both their districts and the nation.  The legislation seeks to coordinate national, state, and local efforts to conserve African American burial sites by developing a voluntary, nationwide database of historic burial grounds and providing technical assistance and educational materials to governmental agencies and the caretaking community. It also proposes a grant program for local groups to research, survey, identify and help preserve theses sites. The bill was introduced in February 2019 as The African American Burial Ground Network (HR 1179)and already has 13 cosponsors on both sides of the aisle. 

This national initiative will also benefit the many state and local cemetery conservation efforts. In my home state, the Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground Project has been convening African American cemetery caretakers for many years to build a stronger community and share best practices. According to Barbara Barksdale, the leader this effort “This bill is vital to saving and preserving our ancestor’s burial sites.” She then gave an example of the need for the legislation in her historic cemetery where in the past the township and an adjoining neighbor had paved over an area that contained burial lots.

While the proposed legislation is an important step in building awareness and developing a network of on-the -ground cemetery caretakers, it is not a panacea. In Pennsylvania, the Hallowed Ground project has identified land ownership as one of the pressing challenges in conserving African American cemeteries. A survey of 42 cemeteries in the Commonwealth with United States Colored Troop burials revealed not only a landscape of segregation and marginalized locations, but, for socio-economic reasons, a tangled web of ownership issues. In one case a farmer granted the African American community a small plot to be used as a burial ground. However, generations later without a written record of the transaction, the current owners cut off access to the site. Only recently has the local VFW negotiated access to let caretakers return for a clean-up and commemoration. In other cases, the original cemetery association or associated church is no longer extant and the site has been abandoned or left in limbo. There are endless variations on this theme. 

The challenging issue of land ownership may make the bill’s condition that property owners must consent to be included in a national cemetery data base a bit problematic. In Pennsylvania at least, the State Historic Preservation Office has committed to include African American cemeteries identified by the Hallowed Ground Project in their statewide GIS data base, which will provide some protection. 

Overall there is a crying need for this legislation to draw awareness to the preservation of these burial grounds that have such strong spiritual and patriotic as well as historic association for members of the African American community. This legislation will help provide information and resources to  cemetery caretakers across the nation so they can focus on the pressing problems of acquiring clear title to their property, repairing broken headstones and sunken vaults, and engaging additional partners in the unending maintenance needs of these hallowed grounds. 

One more thing, for this bill to become law more awareness is needed on the topic and more cosponsors are needed for the bill. Reach out to your member of Congress and ask them to sign on to HR 1179 The African American Burial Ground Network.


Proposed National Register rule threatens Historic & Cultural Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett March 27, 2019

It is not news that the current administration is unfriendly to landscape scale conservation (see The Living Landscape – Observer Outsized threats to Large Landscapes)  So it is no surprise that a proposed Department of Interior (DOI) rule-making has taken another step to discourage landscape conservation. This time by making it more difficult for the public to nominate historic properties and in particular cultural landscapes to the National Register of Historic Places.

The reason for this proposed change in the regulations is not hard to find. Recognition of the cultural value of landscapes is seen as an impediment to the administration’s allies who have interests in resource extraction and energy development projects.   One high profile example is the potential listing of the Chu’it’nu region in Alaska, as a living traditional cultural landscape.  This set off alarm bells in government and industry circles. In particular because it might stop a proposed surface coal mine touted as being among the largest open-pit coal mines in the United States.

Ch’u’itnu Traditional Cultural Landscape Alaska. Photograph by Alan Boraas

As part of the permitting for the mine, the Corp of Engineers, required a cultural resource assessment, but only for the footprint of the proposed mine. And a subsequent survey only identified archaeological sites as significant. The fact that the descendants of the people who left those sites still lived in the larger landscape was ignored. So too was the fact that they had carried on uninterruptedly from pre-contact times to the present subsistence practices centered on the keystone species of wild salmon. Also ignored was the vital social and spiritual aspects of the indigenous community based on their traditional subsistence based life way. The native community argued that the whole drainage was eligible for the NRHP as a cultural landscape. And further argued that the proposed mine would adversely affect the watershed and most critically the salmon on which their culture depended for survival. Read the determination of eligibility here.

Today both the mine and the national register nomination are on hold. However, the alarm bells are still ringing. This is only one example. Many more could be cited such as the designation of Oak Flats in Arizona as a traditional cultural property. See the article Designation of mining site provokes law makers anger.  lIn addition, let’s not forget the underlying rationale for reducing the size of Bears Ears National Monument and other national monuments.

These cases are one reason the DOI fired back with a series of proposed changes to slow down national register nominations at a landscape scale, particularly those that include a mix of federal and other land ownership and owners of large tracts of land.

This rulemaking is complex. Along with problematic sections, it contains technical fixes that are unexceptional. However, for a taste of the problem areas, see a simplified summary of the two most devastating provisions below:

The Deep Freeze– One change states that if federal property is included in a nomination proposed by a State Historic Preservation Office, the federal agency would be able to put the nomination on hold and keep it from even being considered for listing. The change is based on a wrongheaded interpretation of provisions in the Centennial Act (2016), which were supposed to provide more options for nomination not less. Under this new rule, faceless bureaucrats, or more likely their political masters, would decide what gets recognized by listing in the National Register of Historic Places – our nation’s list of what is significant for the American people. Inconvenient nominations, to quote Preservation Action, would now be sent into “regulatory purgatory” or as noted above placed in the deep freeze. Nominations supported by local governments, tribes, community groups, main street managers, or property developers could all be held hostage by this action.

Size Matters– Even more egregious is the proposed changes to the owner objection provisions. Currently when considering a historic property with multiple owners for inclusion on the national register, property owners are to be notified and if a majority of private property owners object then the property is not listed. Under the proposed rule, owner objection provisions would also be based on the size of the property.  The mind boggles at the implementation difficulties – does the opinion of an owner of a hundred-acre estate trump the views of 95 neighbors with one acre lots? What about complex ownership in urban areas – does my 800-foot condo have more sway than your 650? But we do not need to reach this level of absurdity, because the whole premise of this part of the proposed regulation is without any statutory authority. At the annual meeting of Preservation Action (March 2019) an official from the Department of the Interior answered questions about this provision by saying “we just thought it was a good idea.”

Remember regulations are supposed to carry out the intent of legislation enacted by Congress. The tactic of placing national register nominations in the Deep Freeze is problematic as it is based on a misinterpretation of the Centennial Act, but the Size Matters tactic is based on nothing at all! 

This post highlights the impact on landscape scale nominations, but the proposed rules will have cascading adverse impacts on nominations from across the country. For the full text of the rule-making and information on how to comment go to this link National Register of Historic Places.

Comments are due April 30, 2019.


New National Heritage Areas: The Time has Come

By Brenda Barrett March 4, 2019
Santa Cruz National Heritage Photo: Daniel Stern

For a time, the proliferation of new National Heritage Areas seemed unstoppable. What had been 3 in 1987 became 17 by 2000 and 49 by 2010, but then the designations came to a full stop. Concerns over financial costs, property rights, and the ability of the National Park Service to absorb growing partnership responsibilities stemmed the tide.  Bills for new heritage areas were introduced year after year, but nothing came of them. That is until this year when, with surprising speed and overwhelming majorities, the Senate and House passed a large packet of public land measures – the Natural Resources Management Act. This bill is already being celebrated and rightly so for permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund,creating three new national monuments, expanding park boundaries and so on. What has been less discussed in the over 600 pages of legislation is the designation of 6 new National Heritage Areas.

Many of these areas have been waiting in the wings for over a decade. Many have been acting like heritage areas and now will receive the seal of approval.  What is also of significance  is that four of the six new areas are from the west. This helps re-balance a program that traditionally has tilted toward the east coast. 

In addition to the new designations, the bill extended the funding authorization or increased the funding authorization for nine of the older areas. This issue has been a point of contention for years. Unlike national park units, national scenic rivers, or national trails, national heritage areas were only authorized to receive a set amount of funding for set period of time.  This has led to struggles similar to those experienced by the Land and Water Conservation Act and the National Historic Preservation Act whereby funding or program authorization reached an expiration point requiring much time and effort to ensure re-authorization. The extensions for the nine areas is not a long term solution, but it does keep the nine existing areas in business to fight again another day. In the long run what is needed is program legislation that will resolve these issues for ever and a day. Such legislation has been introduced in Congress after Congress, including this one, but has yet to make it to the finish line. See the 2014 article in the Living Landscape Observer Why do we need Program Legislation for National Heritage Areas?.    Sadly, it is still relevant today. 

But back to the good news. As Allyson Brooks, Washington State Historic Preservation Officer/Executive Director Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, noted:

Maritime Washington National Heritage Area
Credit; Washington DAHP

After advocating for more than ten years, Washington State is very proud to become the first national heritage area devoted solely to maritime history. The Washington National Maritime Heritage Area will honor the state’s history from the canoe cultures, to maritime exploration and trade, the early Mosquito fleet ferry system, boat building, lighthouses and more.

Let’s meet all six of the new areas.

Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area (West Virginia and Maryland)

Maritime Washington National Heritage Area (Washington)

Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area (Washington)

Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area (California)

 Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area (Arizona)

 Susquehanna National Heritage Area (Pennsylvania)


Outsized Threats to Large Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett January 27, 2019

Boundaries of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.  Credit Department of Interior

It should be no surprise to readers of the Living Landscape Observer that conserving large landscapes in the current political climate is challenging. While the inevitable negative impacts of the recent shutdown (December 22, 2018 – January 25, 2019) represent the most immediate threats to the management of public lands and federal programs that conserve our cultural and natural resources, the bigger issue is the underlying erosion of landscape scale work throughout our national government.

The 2015 American Academy of Science report “An Evaluation of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives”, identified the need for a landscape approach to resource conservation. The report noted that geographic scale and the complex web of management responsibility for natural and cultural resources demand a collaborative approach to conservation and that this is especially true in times of scarce resources. Only through this approach can the nation address such systemic challenges as conserving wildlife habitat, combating invasive species, protecting cultural landscapes, and planning for climate change.  The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) were designed to provide a framework for federal agencies to meet these challenges. And of course, they were one of the first programs to be dismantled

National Marine Sanctuaires
Courtesey NOAA

Another set of actions that has had an outsize impact on large landscape conservation is the ongoing reduction in public land protections. In 2017, for example, the Trump administration launched a review of 21 national monuments. The most publicized outcome of this process has (thus far)  been the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. Within the borders of this monument alone, the potential losses are tremendous – decreased protection for an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites as well sites with significance for paleontology and geology. Even more important, the landscapes of the monument have tremendous ongoing cultural importance for many Indigenous peoples in the region. Shrinking Bears Ears is a lost opportunity to manage part of the country’s heritage on a landscape scale and to do so in partnership with the Native nations that have lived upon and cared for these lands for generations untold. Read more here.

Bears Ears National Monument as well as another Utah national monument, Grand Staircase Escalante, were not the only places that have suffered reduced protection. Protection for marine reserves have also been reduced. Overshadowed by the controversy over shrinking the size of national monuments that protect large swaths of the United States’ western landscapes, is a parallel effort to change the protected status of the nation’s marine resources. While all eyes have been focused on Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce has prepared its own report to review the size and protection offered to six national marine sanctuary expansions and five marine national monuments. Read More here.

Greater Sage Grouse
Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Less reported on – but also a real calamity – is the dismantling of the multi state effort to save the Greater Sage Grouse. Spurred to action by strong interest in preserving the bird and its habitat and concern about a possible endangered species listing many agencies and organizations came together to protect the species over a large landscape. These efforts to conserve greater sage-grouse habitat were not limited to state and federal agencies. Industry and private landowners also developed means of conserving greater sage-grouse.  The Sage Grouse Initiative  has worked with more than 1,129 ranches to conserve more than 6,000 square miles of sage-grouse habitat in 11 western states. Although hailed as a conservation success, in 2018 the Department of the Interior decided to revise this broadly backed and science-based approach. The proposed changes could have significant and far-reaching effects on sage-grouse in America—specifically by weakening protections on the landscapes the species calls home. Read More here.

Across the board the budgets for large landscape programs have been slashed whether it is the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives or the National Heritage Areas. And that does not even begin to touch on what is happening to climate change research. However, as we start 2019, we do have a few bright spots. Private organizations are stepping up.  The new Network for Landscape Conservation  has dedicated a lot of energy to the effort to bring conservation to scale. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has launched a comprehensive landscape scale initiative

States are also continuing to support landscape scale conservation. North American fish and wildlife agencies have recommitted themselves to coordinated conservation strategies on a national and international scale. See Association of Fish and Wildlife Organization’s Strategic Plan Goals 3. States like Pennsylvania are expanding  support for innovative Conservation Landscape efforts.  Virginia has adopted  a new Conservation Vision  to guide development on a landscape scale.

 All these efforts are praiseworthy, but we still need federal agencies at the table. A couple of  points to consider:

  • Because of the pattern of land ownership in the United States, large landscape work west of the Mississippi must engage Federal partners. If those essential partners are not engaged in these efforts, the work becomes immensely more problematic. For example, the reduced size of both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments eliminated protected status for more than 2 million acres of land in Utah alone.


  • Federal partners bring more than just land ownership. Until recently they brought a powerful voice for a landscape ethic, partnership programs like the Landscape Conservation Collaboratives and landscape programs in the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and even the Department of Defense have played a critical role in making the landscape approach work.


  • In addition to  other actions the administration has delayed re-appointments to friends groups and Advisory boards. They might as well post a big sign “Not Open for Partnership Business.” Well not completely, the federal government is open for other business such as the business of extractive industries as demonstrated by, increase in drilling permits alone. And these interests have no reason to embrace landscape conservation. Under the current administration there is hardly even a nod to the landscape benefits to the recreational industry or to gateways communities. Issues were on the table during the last republican administration of George W Bush.

Of course, all this makes total  sense, if as the National Academy report states, landscape scale work is powered by the need to address issues like unregulated development, energy extraction, and  climate change.  Seen through this lens, the idea of landscape scale conservation is in clear opposition to the current administration’s agenda.

So, what can we do?

Many groups are tackling pieces of the puzzle by pushing back with activism on specific issues  and if needed law suits– see the work of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. Other are working harder to be successful in their own bailiwick such as the Network for Landscape Conservation. But there is also a need to call out this dismantling of critical Federal programs and  partnerships as what it is – a systemic challenge to landscape scale thinking. Perhaps we need a more unified platform, a bigger vessel in which to track the risks to this important work. We need to merge the agendas of nature and culture conservation not just around protected lands, but in advocating  approaches  that engages all partners and incorporate our lived in landscapes toward achieving conservation goals at scale.


The Nature Culture Journey continues: The Presidio in San Francisco

By Brenda Barrett December 10, 2018

Presidio San Francisco Courtesy of

It is not news that we need a global conversation on how to integrate the conservation of cultural and natural values on the landscape. This has been an on-going discussion for decades. However, in the last couple of years the dialogue has gained momentum. At the IUCN-sponsored World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i (September 2016) a purposeful Nature/Culture Journey   was launched to bring together the best ideas on the topic. This dialogue was then continued with a more explicitly cultural focus at the ICOMOS General Assembly in Delhi (December 2017).

In November of 2018, US ICOMOS took the next step by sponsoring the symposium Forward Together: A Culture-Nature Journey Towards More Effective Conservation in a Changing World at the Presidio in San Francisco. The gathering brought together experts from six continents and 15 countries to share a range of ideas on better integrating culture and nature on the ground. The goal was development of actionable strategies for more effective and sustainable conservation.

The Culture/Nature Journey ICOMOS General Assembly 2017 Delhi

To generate content for the gathering, a joint ICOMOS-IUCN Symposium Program Committee solicited papers from around the globe and received over 150 abstracts. These were reviewed by teams with membership in either ICOMOS, IUCN, or both. The diversity of the paper proposals was reflected in the presentations by the 45 selected speakers. Thanks to an excellent team of moderators and rapporteurs, the symposium sessions were used to both hear from the speakers and also from all participants who were challenged to identify key findings and next steps. The session presentations and the outcomes of the discussions will be available as an online publication of the papers in the new year. Preliminary cross-cutting themes and ideas have already emerged around the four conferences themes such as:

  1. The overriding importance of adopting a landscape approach for the conservation of cultural and natural resources — from urban to rural places.
  • There is increasing understanding that the concept of heritage is centered in a dynamic landscape. For this reason, it is critical that we adopt strategies that recognize and adapt to this reality.
  • The field of conservation must adopt a landscape scale approach to address the urgent issues facing our planet particularly our changing climate.
  • Challenges remain in defining and protecting cultural landscapes – in particular thos landscapes with ethnographic values.
  • A better understanding of collaboration and other soft skills are critical to landscape scale management.

2. The recognition of intangible heritage and diverse perspectives is essential to integrated conservation strategies.

  • It is essential to focus on both the cultural and spiritual meaning of nature.
  • People are at the center of this issue and only by honoring their world view and their work up can we make a difference.
  • Conservation strategies that integrate these values demonstrably improve conservation outcomes.

3. Building resilience, adaptation, and sustainability for urban and rural landscapes.

  •  Climate change is profoundly impacting both nature and culture and there may not be much time left.
  • As demonstrated at the conference, there are many locally based initiatives to create more resilient places by blending nature and culture and employing traditional practices or adapting those practices to new conditions.
  • These strategies to make the landscape more resilient need to be shared and linked to for maximum effectiveness.

4.Considering the past and future of the World Heritage List from the perspective of the United States (US)

  •  The US was once a leader in the World Heritage program and despite changes in government policies, the interest in designation has never been higher.
  • It is now understood that in the United States every World Heritage site has a cultural component.
  • A strategy to engage local communities as well as the traditional users of World Heritage Sites should be a component of every location.
  • Taking a landscape scale approach is a strategy to manage serial nominations.

The meeting opened with a distinguished plenary panel included Mechtild Rossler, by video from UNESCO in Paris, former US National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and Stephanie Meeks President of the US National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). The speakers mused about their personal awakening to the importance of understanding the unity of culture and nature.

Former NPS Director John Jarvis related his experience working in Alaska and Stephanie Meeks noted her shift in perspective coming from the Nature Conservancy to the National Trust. Also, on the panel representing ICOMOS was Kristal Buckley and representing IUCN, Tim Badman both of whom reported on the commitment to working together on this critical issue.

In listening to the presentations and the subsequent discussion, symposium attendees were struck by the work that is going on “out there” and how it has been localized and adapted to meet community needs.  The usefulness of merging the two perspectives is bubbling up from practice in the real world. However, there is a need to develop more informed policies in region of the globe and strengthen the understanding of local governments. It was noted that the fields of culture and nature are divided from the top, but not from the bottom. Taking an integrated landscape approach seems to be delivering better conservation outcomes, but there many opportunities to make the work more effective.

With only 160 attendees at the symposium, it is fair to ask who is not in the room?  There is a need to include more representation from nature conservationists. Also, a stronger commitment to social justice and equity. Another sector that might make a meaningful contribution is that representing the arts and humanities. Overall conference goers were impressed by the enthusiasm and vitality of the conservations. All agreed that the strong presence of young practitioners and students gave the event a lot of energy and a feeling tha what we are doing is very important for our shared future. Everyone looks forward to the next steps , which include a declaration of the symposium’s top level findings and publication of the papers presented at the event.

In conclusion, recognition should go to the symposium’s dedicated Program Committee. Team members included Committee Co- chairs Nora Mitchell, who serves as a trustee of US ICOMOS, and Jessica Brown who has worked with IUCN on Protected Landscapes for many years. Also, on the team were Brenda Barrett and Archer St. Claire Harvey, both trustees of US ICOMOS. Special thanks  to Amanda Shull US ICOMOS member and past participant in the organization’s International Exchange Program and of course US ICOMOS staff – Executive Director Jane Seiter, former Executive Director Bill Pencek, Membership and Communications Manager Jenny Spreitzer, and exceptional volunteer from down under Lilly Black.

Read here for additional information on the Forward Together event.









The Challenge of Conserving Cultural Resources on a Landscape Scale

By Brenda Barrett September 29, 2018
This paper draws from the experience and observations of a range of practitioners from the academy, the consulting community, State Historic Preservation Offices, National Park Service and a representative from an indigenous community.  I want particularly thank Robert Z. Melnick, Nora J. Mitchell and A. Elizabeth Watson who shared their perspectives and recommendations on the future of cultural landscapes in the context of larger effort to take conservation to the landscape scale.  A version of this paper was presented at the Network for Landscape Conservation’s workshop held in the Fall 0f 2017 at Shepherdstown WV. This paper is reprinted with their support.  

Chesapeake Bay Heritage Resources
Credit:  Chesapeake Conservation Partnership

There is a growing recognition that cultural resources should be viewed as part of the larger landscape. The concept that there is a unity of nature and culture has created a significant opportunity for cultural resource practitioners to contribute to the new field of landscape scale conservation. And there are compelling reasons to partner up with this emerging movement. The nature conservation field has long recognized that threats to natural resources occur at multiple and much larger spatial scales than those usually addressed in cultural resource preservation. Ecosystems are adversely affected by impacts that transcend political and disciplinary boundaries. Threats include urban expansion, air and water pollution, deforestation, agriculture intensification, mineral extraction, and of course climate change. The nation’s cultural heritage faces the same threats. Responding with a landscape or regional approach is a better match to the scope of the problem. It can also be argued that adding a cultural dimension to large landscapes enriches the heritage value of a place and engages residents and visitors in stewardship efforts.

The question remains: how can we make this partnership work?

  1. What Gets Mapped Gets Saved

The growth of technology, of what is called big data, has fueled the development of the natural conservation at a landscape scale. And as stated above there are good reasons for the field of cultural resources to jump onboard. To do so the first steps are to identify, understand and prioritize what cultural resources should be considered for conservation and to better understand the relationship of cultural heritage to natural systems. However, recent consultation with leading practitioners exposed some serious fault lines in this part of the process. Traditional historic preservation practitioners used the definition of significance derived from the National Historic Preservation Act, while indigenous communities and other local communities take a more holistic approach that includes intangible values. Conservation groups often use community-based indicators – recreation, educational facilities, and so on.

Each of these perspectives is valid, but none is sufficient unto itself. This is part of the challenge. As large landscape work increasingly depends on the power of mapping and big data for setting conservation priorities, decisions on what is mapped really matters. The nature conservation community has identified this as a barrier to working with cultural resource partners. And unfortunately, they are correct; there is no consensus in the cultural resource community in how to present this information.


  • The National Register of Historic Places is limited– Although widely used, this data set is seen as an imperfect tool to identify the cultural resources present in a landscape. In many states the data base of cultural resources is incomplete and inadequately evaluated. One land conservancy in Maine, disappointed in the limited National Register listings in their region, went so far as to develop a crowd sourced tool to find more historic resources in the region. Required cultural surveys for environmental review purposes often only identify properties that might be eligiblefor the National Register. For this reason, unless owners are seeking federal rehabilitation tax credits, there is little incentive to proceed to the expense of listing a property. Moreover, the limited number of National Register sites is the just the tip of the iceberg.  Other local and state historic inventories that should be the first place to consult are inadequate, incomplete and most challenging inaccessible. Funds to redress these problems are in chronically short supply. Moreover, few states have invested in state-of-the-art computerized digital access to their data.  Other states are so behind this curve it will take years to catch up.
  • What National Register data there is very particularistic – building by building or site by site – there are very few designated cultural landscapes. While landscapes as a property type can be identified using the program’s criteria, this category has seen very limited application. State historic preservation officials who administer the National Register program in partnership with the National Park Service have been wary about designating landscapes, often concerned about the level of effort and about the potential for political push-back.
  • New Blended Data Sets– Without a commonly accepted data set for cultural resources, there have been some innovative new directions to fill the gap, such as crowdsourced data bases mentioned above. A leader in the field was the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC), a Department of Interior initiative charged with regional landscape-scale planning that integrates cultural and natural resources.  The Appalachian LCC  began pilot projects to tackle this integrated approach. The project identified 11 cultural resources data sets including such tangible factors as recreation, agriculture, economics, learning, water, and wilderness as well as cultural heritage, plus such intangible information as aesthetic, visual, sense of place, etc. Work is underway to develop these data sets and metrics in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with the goal to expand into other states. While this is an example of a more expansive approach to gathering cultural and social data than traditional historic preservation techniques, the future of the LCCs and hence this initiative’s future is very uncertain. At this time there is no generally accepted model that integrates cultural and natural heritage and allows cross-region comparisons.


  • Better definition of Cultural Landscapes– More aid from the National Park Service in identifying and designating cultural landscapes was a uniform recommendation from practioners in the field. The agency offers guidance on identifying landscapes such as Guidelines for Documenting and Identifying Traditional Cultural Properties(Bulletin 38) and Guidelines for Documenting and Evaluating Rural Historic Districts(Bulletin 30), but much more support and training is needed. Fortunately, the National Park Service has initiated a study of the nomination of cultural landscapes to the National Register of Historic Places as part of a new initiative to develop improved guidance for the program.
  • More effective use of other large landscapes designations– National Heritage Areas were mentioned numerous times by commentators as a promising approach that takes a holistic approach to the landscape. Long distance trails could work as well. For example, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has a new large landscape initiative to recognize and preserve not just the treadway, but the lands beyond the trail. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake Bay Trail, for example, has identified a much larger viewshed. Scenic byways, scenic rivers, and long-distance greenways also offer possibilities.
  • Expand the application of the Indigenous Cultural Landscapes– This concept was developed to better understand cultural landscapes that demonstrate aspects of natural and cultural resources that supported Native American lifeways and settlements in the early 17th century in the Chesapeake Watershed.This approach demonstrates that significant places important to Native American are not confined to the sites of houses, towns, or settlements, and that their view of one’s homeland is a holistic landscape approach.
  • Other conservation initiatives– There is a real need for a dialogue about terms and definitions with the natural resource community, land conservancies, and the others. This is particularly true as cultural assessments move into the realm of social science.
  • Work with SHPOs to help them advocate for a nationwide initiative in investing and reinvesting in surveying and records management that supports these new approaches and readily available, digital public access.
  1. How to Conserve Cultural Landscapes

Of course, identifying resources in the landscape is only the first step. Practitioners offered a number of different strategies to conserve cultural landscapes. In most cases the techniques to conserve cultural landscapes are not very different from those used to conserve land for natural resource values – and natural and cultural heritage are often interlinked.  A number of experts noted the importance of public engagement not just in assessing what is significant, but also in understanding how it will be conserved to benefit the community and future generations.


  • Additional Funding – Finding funds for conservation planning and of course for actually saving landscape resources is a challenge for all parties in the conservation movement. However, cultural resources feel a greater pinch, as there are not as many funding streams dedicated to conserving lands that contain cultural resources.


  •  Partnerships are essential– Over and over the value of saving landscapes with multiple values has been emphasized by the large landscape movement. This can bring more money to the table and more shoulders to the wheel. Partnerships to protect battlefields and conserve recreational assets were specifically mentioned. It is important to encourage land trusts and other partners to protect cultural as well as natural lands.
  • Coordinate with State Agricultural Conservation programs– One area that stands out as a conservation success are programs to preserve agricultural landscapes. While only a few states like Minnesota and Pennsylvania have both developed agriculture historic context studies and programs to preserve farmland, there is an opportunity to adapt farmland preservation programs to honor and interpret this part of our nation’s heritage. One program that has potential is recognizing owners of Century Farms.  Finally, it is important to seek out innovative examples that have stood the test of time.  The Oley Valley Rural Historic District in Pennsylvania has shown how land conservation, environmental protection and historic preservation  have been coordinated to achieve effective conservation.
  • Engage with landscape scale efforts – And of course joining the Network for Landscape Conservation and highlighting initiatives across the nation that incorporate both cultural and natural values.


Cultural resource and conservation practitioners have varying perspectives on how to incorporate cultural values on a large scale, and what should be the defining criteria. However, the good news is that there are positive signs that the conservation initiatives are working in some new partnerships that connect cultural and natural heritage. Projects from the Chesapeake Watershed to the Crown of the Continent are awakening to the need to include a cultural or human dimension in landscape conservation planning.

Underlying this new positive thinking, there are some serious challenges. One cultural landscape scholar noted that parts of the historic preservation community are still mired in the nature/culture split.  Going forward, it is critical that the preservation community get past the categorization of resources that denies the applicability of ’natural’ resource scholarship and tools to cultural resources, especially cultural landscapes. Another barrier is the set of traditional preservation criteria for determining ‘integrity’ of cultural resources, one that does not recognize the larger dynamic environmental context, especially in this era of climate change. To conserve resources on a landscape scale, practitioners need to think one size larger and engage in a broader level of flexibility. Today this discussion can best be characterized as a “Work in Progress”.





Network for Landscape Conservation issues a new Report- Pathways Forward: Progress and Priorities in Landscape Conservation

By Brenda Barrett August 28, 2018

The rapidly growing movement to conserve large landscapes has now matured to the point that it has a dedicated organization, the Network for Landscape Conservation, with the mission to document and advance the field. A milestone in advancing this approach is the Nework’s just released report Pathways Forward: Progress and Priorities in Landscape Conservation. The purpose of report is two-fold: to capture the current state of landscape conservation practice; and to suggest what we can do together to successfully conserve our irreplaceable cultural and natural landscapes. It describes the thinking of 200 leading landscape conservation practitioners at a November 2017 National Forum on Landscape Conservation. Today the growth of the movement is measured not just by the increasing number of landscape scale projects, but more importantly by the growing understanding of what it means to  successfully sustain them. The new report tackles critical topics  such as the need for effective communication, wide ranging collaboration, and targeted investments. It also explores the role of science and the challenge of gaining the necessary support from policy makers.

Each of these topics has a chapter in the report that synthesizes the discussions at the 2017 Forum and supplements it with ‘state of the field’ information as well as illustative case studies. As an example, the first chapter on Collaboration charts the necessary elements for a large landscape effort to succeed.  It also, and this rang true to me, provided insights on how these landscape efforts might break down. A common failing is not having designated staff support or a ‘backbone organization’ to keep these complicated collaborations moving forward. Each chapter offers a wealth  lessons learned as well ground-truthed examples.  Each of the five chapters conclude with a set of five-year benchmarks that serve as targets, or can we say ‘pathways forward’, for the landscape conservation community.

Finally, as the report notes,  the stakes could not be higher with a world facing escalating habitat loss and climate change. At risk are the very values landscapes provide to society – clean air, water, and healthy outdoor recreation. Healthy landscapes also deliver such well recognized ecosystem services as reducing the impact of floods and fire, mitigating climate change, improve public health, and safeguarding both cultural heritage and ecological systems. Harder to quantify, but also important, landscapes provide that special sense of place that defines a community and region.

This is a must-read report for all practitioners in the field. It breaks new ground by fully recognizing the essential role of the human dimension in all landscape scale efforts and in appreciating that communities and their cultural values are integral to our future. Or as the report poetically states landscape scale conservation can ” reweave the natural and cultural fabric of the larger landscapes that define and sustain our character and quality of life.”

So, open up the just released Pathways Forward report and join the Network for Landscape Conservation  to stay on top of this fast moving field.







The English Lake District: World Heritage Designation One Year In

By Brenda Barrett July 25, 2018

World Heritage Plaque English Lake Distict
Image: Chee-Wai Lee

It was last July 2017 that after many decades of effort  the English Lake District was finally recognized as a World Heritage cultural landscape  at the World Heritage Committee’s meeting in Krakow Poland. So how is the Lake District faring one year after designation? In many ways the inscription has not resulted in big changes. The World Heritage bid was put together by the Lake District National Park Partnership (Partnership) and it continues to play a key role in carrying out its stated mission for the Lake District as:  A place where its prosperous economy, world class visitor experiences and vibrant communities come together to sustain the spectacular landscape, its wildlife and cultural heritage.

 Established in 2006, the Partnership currently consists of 25 organizations representing the region’s public, private, community, and voluntary sectors. Its vision and the Partnership’s  Management Plan, was the foundation of the World Heritage nomination. What is most remarkable about the partnership is that it was created without statutory authority or any governmental mandate. Not only did the group prepare the most recent plan to backstop the nomination, but it also is the vehicle for carrying out the strategies to conserve resources and ensure that the site’s Outstanding Universal Values are protected.

In recent discussion with Partnership leaders responsible for implementing the Lake District management strategy, they provided several examples of the value of this partnership approach. When a controversial zip line was proposed across the Thirlmere Reservoir, the National Trust took the unusual step of opposing a project that would not directly impact a property in their ownership. They took the position that the English Lake District National Park should be looked as a unitary resource to be conserved in its totality. The fact that it was now a World Heritage site certainly reinforced this position. In the end the owners of the reservoir, United Utilities, who were also a member of the Partnership determined that the visual intrusion of the project was unacceptable.

The Partnership also has provided a flexible management structure. While the Lake District National Park Authority is the planning authority and the statutory body responsible for managing the national park and the  World Heritage site, recent cuts to National Park budget’s, up to 40% since 2008, have impacted the  Authority’s ability to  deliver services. This had led another partner, the National Trust (the major land owner in the park),  to play a more central role and  to step up its efforts to help out. One example, the Trust has led the discussion within the Partnership regarding a vision for the thirteen valley landscapes in the Lake District over the next fifty years.  This has been challenging for the partners (some of which are self-confessed single-issue lobbying groups).  The task of coordinating the questioning and working with the responses to work up something tangible has fallen to the National Trust who volunteered to co-ordinate a vision and action steps for the region by developing a plan for Sustainable Land Management. While such a visioning exercise might have fallen to the National Park Authority in the past, the Trust volunteered itself and employed additional staff for that purpose.  The approach has been worthwhile in establishing a starting point for the future conservation of these landscapes.

So, the verdict is that the Partnership is working effectively to manage and conserve the national park and the newly designated World Heritage site. However, dealing with outside forces that may impact the Lake District is much more problematic. And in the front of the line of pressing issues is Brexit.  What will it mean for the country’s agricultural policy? This particularly important for the Lake District – as it is noted in the World Heritage nomination the region is an “unrivalled example of a northern Europe upland agro-pastoral system” which is also  ”a land use that continues to today in the face of social, economic and environmental pressures.”

Brexit means leaving the well understood if not always popular rules and subsidies of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy and forging a new direction for British agriculture. Getting this new policy right is important as British farming supplies 60% of the nation’s food and uses 70% of the land area. In February 2018, Michael Grove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, rolled out an ambitious white paper Health and Harmony: The future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit  setting  forth an approach that claims to promote both environmental protection and profitable food production in service of a healthier society. The details of this over 50-page consultation document are too extensive to summarize here. However, the direction is to move away from a system of direct payment for production and reward other public goods such as environmental conservation. Of real interest to the Lake District, the document specifically recognizes the challenges of farmers in “the most remote and wild and beautiful parts of England” and calls out the environmental and cultural values of the rural landscape and the traditional way of life including the  upland environment.

There is much to like in this report starting with the title. The United States could learn a lot by studying the ideas proposed that meld food security, environmental conservation, and rural prosperity. The value placed on the cultural landscape and on such qualities as beauty never appear in any US farm policy document that I have ever seen. While recent US Farm Bills now offer some hard-fought financial support for better  wildlife and water management, proposals to offer financial support to sustain beauty, heritage, and the rural historic environment are unheard of on this side of the pond. It should be noted that this report is only the first step. There is still some time left as the government’s proposal is to maintain the current level of agricultural subsidies until 2021 and to have  a gradual transition of payments thereafter.   However, at a national level it cannot be said that Brexit negotiations are going smoothly and this will inevitably affect the agricultural sector.

Yes, the number of farmers impacted by Brexit in the Lake District is small, estimated at just a few hundred families, but sustaining their way of life is essential to maintaining the landscape’s  Outstanding Universal Value.  All eyes are on the future of farming in these unsettled times.









Shrinking Bears Ears National Monument: What has been Lost

By Brenda Barrett May 28, 2018
Bears Ears National Monument Photo credit Andy Laurenzi courtesy of Archaeology Southwest

Bears Ears National Monument
Photo credit Andy Laurenzi courtesy of Archaeology Southwest

Almost all readers know the outlines of the controversy surrounding the Bears Ears National Monument. How for years those supporting the monument attempted to negotiate with state and local officials in Utah to craft a compromise to protect this highly significant landscape. How when this failed President Obama, at the very end of his term, used his presidential powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate the region as a national monument. And how within less than a year the Trump administration reversed this action shrinking Bears Ears by over 85%.

While there is an understanding that the monument designation was a good thing and rolling it back was not good, there has not always been a full discussion of what has been lost by this action. At a recent program (April 13, 2018) Bears Ears National Monument and the Future of Our National Monument sponsored by Johns Hopkins University, William Doelle, President and CEO of Archeology Southwest, said it this way “Personally what I see as so important about the Antiquities Act is that it allows landscape scale, protection, preservation and planning… and in Bears Ears for the first time the impetus to use the Antiquities Act to establish a monument came from tribal voices.”

The creation of Bears Ears National Monument did not just set aside public land for enhanced management by federal agencies, it established a new management approach whereby five Native American tribes with historic associations to the place were part of the management of its future. At the recent Johns Hopkins program, Willie Gray Eyes, Chairman of Utah Diné Bikéyah, told how this monument was rooted in the idea of ancestral land and all the resources of mother earth – water, subsistence areas for hunting and gathering, as well as ceremonial and sacred sites. He noted that native people take a holistic perspective of place and for this reason traditional knowledge is as important as science to its management.

Octavius Seowtewa of the Pueblo of Zuni spoke of the grassroots effort to have the monument recognized. Five tribes came together and to form a coalition to work through challenging issues recognizing each other’s heritage and establishing boundaries for the monument. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition—an alliance of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni tribes was to be a ‘voice for the ancestors’ in the management and protection of this new national monument. This was proposed as an unprecedented level of collaborative management between tribes and the federal government for the new national monument. The Bears Ears’ lands would remain in public hands and open to all Americans. But for the first time, those lands would be managed in a way that also honors the worldview of today’s Native people and their ancestors.

The original 2016 proclamation establishing the Bears Ears monument specifically recognized the importance of tribal participation its care and management. To ensure that management decisions affecting the monument reflect tribal expertise and traditional and historical knowledge, the proclamation established Bears Ears Commission to provide guidance and recommendations on both the development of management plans and on its implementation. It further directed the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to fully consider integrating the traditional and historical knowledge and special expertise of the Commission in making management decisions. This careful and lawyerly language gave the tribes an unprecedent role in conserving these lands. You can read all this in the original presidential proclamation, which by the way is also worth reading for its stirring description of the landscape and the resources contained therein.

Tommy Beaudreau, former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Department of the Interior under President Obama, outlined the almost decade long process of negotiating the framework and boundaries for Bears Ears. He explained how the department, after extensive research, concluded that the whole landscape was a large object of scientific interest. Its significance went far beyond a collection of archeological sites on a map -the historic record covered the entire landscape. He also said that the designation was important because “At the end of the day, we wanted to establish the precedent of a different way to manage public land that included cooperative management with a role for Native American people. We wanted to have that model introduced.”

But as we know all of this was not to be. Although the monument designation moved forward on December 28, 2016, as soon as the new administration was in power, it was high on Secretary Zinke’s list to radically scale it back. And that is what happened.

In conclusion, we as a nation have lost so much with the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. There will be less protection for an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites as well as the paleontological and geological wonders. We have missed a chance to manage part of our heritage on a landscape scale and most tragically the chance to do so in partnership with the tribes that have lived upon and cared for this land for generations untold.

Below – a video of the event.

Many thanks to Sara Chicone of The Cultural Heritage Management Graduate Program of Advanced Academic Programs, Johns Hopkins University and to all the participants on the panel on Bears Ears National Monument. For the whole story watch the  program here. 


Network for Landscape Conservation: A Lesson in Nature and Culture

By Brenda Barrett April 30, 2018
unnamed-1The Coordinating Committee of the Network for Landscape Conservation gathered for a picture on Boneyard Beach, Bull Island in the Cape Romaine National Wildlife Reserve in South Carolina. The field trip kicked off an April retreat in Charleston South Carolina to finalize the outcomes of the recent  National Forum for Landscape Conservation and to identify strategic initiatives to advance the conservation at a landscape scale. Collaborative, cross border conservation is an emergingtrend in North America and beyond, offering a new approach to connect and protect nature, culture, and community. The Network was formed to serve as a new organizational center for practioners and to advance expertise on conservation at a landscape scale. The low country region is a great example of a conserved natural landscape with four Federal Wildlife Refuges, designation as the Carolinian-South Atlantic Biosphere Reserve, and  ACE Basin Project that manages over 100,000 of protected lands and estuaries. However, it is the cultural heritage of the region, it is one of the centers of Gullah Geechee culture, that makes the landscape of truly global  cultural and natural significance.

The Gullah Geechee people of today are descendants of enslaved Africans from various ethnic groups of west and central Africa, who were forced to work on the plantations of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The geographic isolation from outsiders and strong sense of family and community allowed the Gullah Geechee people to maintain a separate creole language and developed distinct culture patterns, which included more of the African cultural tradition than African-American populations in other parts of the United States. After the Civil War the island plantations were for the most part abandoned. The people of the region were able to maintain language, arts, crafts, religious beliefs, folklore, rituals and food preferences that are distinctly connected to their West African roots and to the natural resources of the coastal ecosystem

Former Rice Fields Mansfield Plantation Georgetown SC

Former Rice Fields Mansfield Plantation Georgetown SC

Today sprawling coastal development, changing job markets, and population shifts have impacted the natural resources of the low country and those same forces have adversely impacted many Gullah Geechee people. These changes have caused a loss of their traditional economy of farming, fishing, hunting, and small-scale marketing of subsistence products, most famously sweet grass baskets. In many cases real-estate development has led to loss of lands that had been in families for generations.  First came the northern owned hunting clubs and estates, later military bases, and then resort and second home development. This encroachment by outsiders has resulted in out-migration, economic hardship, and loss of Gullah Geechee culture.

At the April meeting the members of the Coordinating Committee were privileged to hear from two women who are working to preserve the culture of the Gullah Geechee people that is so deeply rooted in the low country region. Heather L. Hodges, the recently appointed  Executive Director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission spoke about activities to expand and preserve the body of knowledge on the culture and history of the Gullah Geechee people in the Low Country and Sea Islands. She also gave a briefing on how much the landscape we see today in Charleston region was created by enslaved Africans using knowledge from their homeland to grow rice. To learn more read The Creation of the Rice Coast: A Global Exchange.

Jennie Stephens, Executive Director of the Center for Heirs Property Preservation, explained how her organization helps prevent land loss among the traditional African American land owners, who often owned family land in common. As explained on the Center’s web site”In the Lowcountry, heirs’ property  is mostly rural land owned by African Americans who either purchased or were deeded land following Emancipation. At some point in the land’s ownership, it was passed down without a written Will – or was not legally probated within the 10 years required by SC law to make it valid – so the land became heirs’ property. Heirs’ property ownership is risky because the land can be easily lost.  Any heir can force a sale of the property in the courts – OR can sell his/her percentage of ownership to another (outside of the family) who can force a sale of the entire property in the courts.

To address this loss of cultural fabric, the Center for Heirs Property Preservation aids low wealth heirs’ property owners by helping them obtain clear title and keep their family land through legal education, legal and mediation services, community empowerment and free Wills Clinics. In addition, the Center promotes the sustainable use of such land to provide increased economic benefit to historically under-served families.

Slave Dwelling Mansfield Plantation Georgetown SC

Slave Dwelling
Mansfield Plantation Georgetown SC

For the Network for Landscape Conservation and all its partners, the Low Country of South Carolina is truly a powerful example of the interlinkage of nature and culture.  It is a lesson that effective landscape scale conservation must begin with an understanding of the region’s cultural and natural heritage as well as the living traditions of today’s descendants. And to fully value the significance of the resource, we need to place the story within a global context. In this case it is the transatlantic slave trade, the market in global commodities, and the vast international Atlantic exchange of indigenous knowledge that were the forces behind the creation of this landscape.Fortunately, an effort is underway, led by the  Charleston World Heritage Coalition, to nominate the iconic buildings and landscapes representative of the region’s Lowcountry plantation-driven culture as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perhaps at last the whole story will now be told.















Vietnam: Looking for the American War

By Brenda Barrett March 26, 2018
Revolutionary Mural in the Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Revolutionary Mural in the Ho Chi Minh City Museum


In Vietnam, our tour guide told us, they call winter the American Season. This is when well-heeled baby boomers come to see a country that figured so large in much of their youth. Some also come to see what has happened to country that they last saw under battlefield conditions. What they find is a “communist” country in throes of entrepreneurial high spirits. Not a wealthy country by any means, but one becoming prosperous with a GDP growth rate of over 7%. The city streets are lined with small shops and choked with motor scooters. According to the Ministry of Transport, the country has 45 million motor scooters for a population of 92 million people.

Hoa Lo Prison Museum In Hanoi

Hoa Lo Prison Museum In Hanoi

But what of the war, what of the past?  In Hanoi out of country tourists crowd into the Maison Centrale, the notorious Hoa Lo Prison Museum. Today sharing  its site with a tall apartment block. Photographs of famous residents (Senator John McCain) and visitors (President Clinton) are on display.  Somber exhibits tell the history and horror of the prison built by the French during the colonial regime. Hanoi is also the place to visit the soviet style tomb of Ho Chi Minh as well as his modest residence. Located on the grounds of the former colonial government compound, the house was built in the style of a peasant’s stilt house and is Gandhi-like in its austere simplicity.

Reunification Palace in Saigon

Reunification Palace in Saigon

For most Americans though the most vivid images of Vietnam are all below the 17th parallel – China Beach, Da Nang, Hue, the Mekong Delta, and of course Saigon. Now officially called Ho Chi Minh City, but everyone still calls the bustling upscale city center by its former name. First on the list of the city’s historical sites is Independence Palace also so known as Reunification Palace. Architecturally it is an unlikely political symbol of revolution. This very modernist structure was commissioned in the 1960s by South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem on the site of the former French Governor General Residence. The original residence was destroyed in 1962 in an assassination attempt on Diem’s by his own air force. Diem then commissioned this new residence, but was actually assassinated before it was completed. And it was here in 1975 that North Vietnamese tanks pushed through the building’s gates ending the long war.

Just this short recounting of the building’s past, is a lesson in the complex history that is Vietnam. Today the building has been carefully preserved with each of the official rooms telling a different story of foreign and in particular American involvement in the war. The fact that the building and its furnishings were not looted during the transition of power tells another story about the discipline of the transition. Finally, the residence’s richly furnished living quarters tell one more tale. A tale of the  of the opulent life style of South Vietnam’s leaders,  quite a contrast to Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house in Hanoi.

Cu Chi Tunnel Complex  demonstrating hidden tunnel entrance

Cu Chi Tunnel Complex demonstrating hidden tunnel entrance

The other must do site especially for foreign tourists is a visit to Cu Chi Tunnel complex. These tunnels, now symbols of resistance, were originally begun during the period of the French occupation. The complex includes some of the original tunnels many with entrances widened to admit the larger size of out of country visitors as well as reconstructed kitchens, displays of armaments, and tanks, and gruesome exhibits on the range of booby traps. Providing additional verisimilitude, is the   constant sound of gun fire from the nearby National Defence Sport Shooting Range. There for $1.50 a bullet you can shoot weapons such as machine guns and M-16s, which in the site’s brochure is billed as part of the sites recreational and entertainment services.

Exhibit Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Exhibit Ho Chi Minh City Museum

The final stop on my personal American War tour of Vietnam was a visit to the Ho Chi Minh City Museum until recently known as the Revolutionary Museum. The building  housed in, a French Colonial neoclassical building from 1886, has its own complex story. It served as the headquarters of the French Governor, then the Japanese occupation, and even  as a temporary residence for the ill-fated  President Diem.

Exhibit Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Exhibit Ho Chi Minh City Museum

Today the museum’s first floor displays antiquated exhibits of Vietnamese industry, geography and archeology. Upstairs there are only slightly more updated exhibits of the Vietnamese people’s resistance to theFrench, the Japanese, and finally the Americans.  The artifacts are the plain and touching remnants of the revolution: reading glasses, typewriters, and mess kits. The story is a continuum of struggle against outside forces from three continents.

And one more vignette: Seeking to escape the building’s atmosphere of humidity and dignified decay as well as a sudden rain shower, I headed to a coffee shop on the grounds of the museum. Opening its big glass door, I walked into a different world-  air-conditioning, gleaming brass fixtures, the whoosh of expresso machines, and a crowd of young Vietnamese sipping lattes and working on laptops.  No reason to look any further, welcome to Vietnam today.