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US National Parks on the Southern Border

By Brenda Barrett February 27, 2017
Border Fence  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Border Fence
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Standing in the shade cast by a twenty high border fence, our ranger discussed the challenges facing Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as a park on the border between the United States and Mexico. The tour we signed up for was described as an opportunity to visit the Gachado Line Camp, a historic cowboy camp, and so we did. But as our ranger said, what people really want to see when they come down here is the border and that was true for our little group.

Border Vehicle Barrier Courtesy National park Service

Border Vehicle Barrier
Courtesy National park Service

The southern border of the United States is an evolving concept. This particular boundary was imposed on the landscape by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 and for decades it was only marked by intermittent concrete monuments. The first border fence, in what is now the national monument,  was a strand or two of barbed wire to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease. It was only as illegal immigration and drug trafficking increased at the turn of the 21st century that the National ParkService installed a low metal vehicle barrier along the monument’s 31-mile boundary. This prevented vehicles from crossing the border and impacting the fragile desert environment, but was permeable to wildlife.

In 2007 a twenty-foot border fence was erected for a five mile stretch on the park’s boundary by the Department of Homeland Security in part as a response to the tragic shooting of NPS Ranger Kris Eggle. He was shot in 2002 by a Mexican national who had fled into the park after committing a crime on the other side of the border. This spotlighted the security issues in the monument, border patrol presence increased dramatically and for years afterwards whole sections of the park were closed to visitors. Today with increased park staff and reduced incidents on the border, the park is once again open for business.

Biosphere Reserve Plaque Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

Biosphere Reserve Plaque
Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

President Roosevelt created the monument by proclamation in 1937 for its exceptional Sonoran Desert habitat and as the northern most range of the Organ Pipe Cactus. In 1976 the park was also declared a biosphere reserve under the international Man and Biosphere program, which seeks to conserve examples of ecosystems around the world. Sustaining these values in particularly the Mountain Lions and the newly revitalized herd of Sonoran Antelope, is challenged by the boundary defenses. At this time wildlife population seem to be able to navigate around the high wall that only seals off a quarter of the park, but questions remain.

Crossing the Rio Grande  Big Bend National Park

Crossing the Rio Grande
Big Bend National Park

The National Park with the biggest footprint on the border sits on the big bend of the Rio Grande River in Texas.  Because of its remote location and the ecological values of its riverine boundary, there are no barriers on the border in Big Bend National Park. On a visit a of couple years ago, we watched local residents ride back and forth across the river as they have done for centuries. Just as at Organ Pipe, visitors to the park are provide with cautionary advice  and sent on their way to enjoy this special Chihuahuan Desert environment.  Authorized by Congress in 1937, the park was recently added to the US World Heritage Tentative list for its outstanding universal natural values.

Chamizal National Memorial  El Paso TX

Chamizal National Memorial
El Paso TX

Chamizal National Memorial is not only right on the border between the US and Mexico, the mission of this small, 55-acre site, in El Paso Texas is to memorialize that border. It was created in part by the 1966 Treaty of Chamizal that resolved a long running border dispute between the two countries.  The recently prepared Foundation Document for the park defines the site’s significance as commemorating these successful diplomatic negotiations,  the complex  geography of the border,  and the  cultural connection between the people of the two nations. Very different than the other parks, Chamizal is in an intensely urban environment with the channelized Rio Grande as one boundary and car traffic from the nearby border crossing causing both noise and air pollution on another. Among many challenges at the site, the document noted that NPS staff were unable to officially travel to the sister park Parque Publico Federal et Chamizal on the Mexican side, which constrains the cross border programming and partnership part of the memorial’s charge.

Mexican border  Chamizal National Memorial

Mexican border
Chamizal National Memorial

So here we have three vignettes of the current conditions facing US National Parks in carrying out their mission on the nation’s southern border.  Recent proposals to harden the infrastructure of the border, for example to build a wall, and to increase militarization and enforcement will not make this any easier for our protected area managers.  But I take hope from our Organ Pipe ranger’s concluding words. He said these are not National Park Service lands, not even the federal government’s land, they are your public lands, you own them. Let’s protect this priceless legacy.



US World Heritage: Filling the Gaps

By Brenda Barrett February 27, 2017
Brooklyn Bridge New York Credit: Jim Henderson Wikipedia Commons

Brooklyn Bridge New York
Credit: Jim Henderson Wikipedia Commons

World Heritage designation connotes that a property is of outstanding universal value and is  seen as the gold standard of global significance. However, this appellation is not as well known or sought after in the United States as in most other countries where designation is seen as a source of national pride, a potential ticket to more state support, and a possible economic benefits from increased tourism. For this reason, in many countries proponents of a World Heritage nomination invest serious dollar and even political capital in preparing a bid for World Heritage inscription.

The first step in the process is for a state party to create a tentative list of potential World Heritage candidates. Recently the United States updated its tentative list. This is a big deal as the last US tentative list was a prepared in 2008.  With little public fanfare, the US Department of the Interior has added five new cultural properties to the United States’ World Heritage Tentative list. The new list was published  in the Federal Register in early December 2016 with a brief 15 day comment period and is now final. The updated and complete tentative list of both the US cultural and natural properties is available on the web sites above.

gap-study-logo-square-600x400 (1)While in the past the preparation of the US tentative list was the bailiwick of a small group of experts, starting in 2015 the National Park Service broadened the outreach process for cultural properties. The agency partnered with US ICOMOS to conduct an online expert consultation, which reached out to almost a 1,000 architects, historians, archaeologists, site managers, ethnographers, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, State Historic Preservation Officers and their expert staff. Respondents were surveyed to identify their area of expertise, familiarity with World Heritage program, and related topics. A central component of the consultation was an expert discussion forum of six threaded topic areas. Each topic area was moderated by at least two experts who posed questions and encouraged a robust online discussion.

Ellis Island New York By Ingfbruno; CC BY-SA 3.0,

Ellis Island New York
By Ingfbruno; CC BY-SA 3.0,

The six selected cultural resource themes for the consultation were not just based on disciplinary categories, but attempted to address the recognized gaps in the existing US World Heritage tentative list as well as identified gaps and lack of representation in the overall World Heritage list. The full list of the selected themes can be found at the end of the article. Over one hundred experts contributed their ideas and suggested representative properties.  Such an ambitious approach to consultation had never been tried before. Based on this information US/ ICOMOS issued a synthesis of these findings, U.S. World Heritage Gap Report. 

This information was further reviewed by an experts round-table and all this information was shared with the US National Park Service as part of developing the final recommendations for the recent tentative list.

The first question that might be asked is –  did this process make a difference? How many of the themes and specific examples identified in the US/ICOMOS Gap report were included in the expanded tentative list? Or to put in another way, did the process help make our nation’s tentative list more representative?  Well let’s take a look at the recommendations.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York

There was high level of consensus under the theme of Technology and Industry and the sub theme of Auto Industry & Transport that more examples in these categories needed to be included on the tentative list. And no surprise, the Brooklyn Bridge was a identified as a stand-out example of outstanding universal value. The bridge was  called out multiple times in the report under the theme of Industry, but also under the theme of Architecture and Innovation

Central Park, New York

The topic of cultural landscapes attracted the most commentators in the consultation. The discussion under this theme were categorized into broad areas two dealing with African American culture and plantation landscapes and African American Civil Rights sites and another in a different vein looked at designed parks and protected areas and specifically the development of the US national park system. It is in this category that Central Park in New York City was the preeminent example not just as inspiring other city parks, but later the creation of scenic reservations and national parks.

Early Chicago Skyscrapers Illinois

Another underrepresented theme dealt with Architecture and Urbanism and in particular the sub theme of innovation, technology and scientific development in the field. The skyscraper as a type, particularly the innovations that began in Chicago, were repeatedly identified as an important resource.

Ellis Island, New Jersey and New York

At both the global level and in the US,  properties related to the theme of Living Cultures and Diverse heritage are underrepresented types on the World Heritage list. The sub-theme of migration and globalization was identified as one of great international relevance. And Ellis island is one of the best known symbols of both migrants to the US and to the families left behind.

Moravian Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Also under the theme of Living Cultures and Heritage was the Moravian community in Bethlehem Pennsylvania.  Founded in 1741, the site was part of a closely knit world-wide network espousing the greater good of a world community.

As might be foreseen, a number of themes and representative properties discussed in the gap report could not be included in the most recent US tentative list. However, it should be noted that the  five new additions to the list were all identified in the US/ICOMOS report and provide some diversity to the list. For example, adding more places of recent history, technology and innovation, and world migration and immigration. While the list is tilted towards the Eastern Seaboard and New York City specifically, it does offer some counter balance to the western slant of the 23 World Heritage sites in the US inscribed to date. It does a good job of working around the limitations that hobble many US proposals including the requirement for the written consent of all property owners.

In conclusion, this online consultation has had collateral benefits.  For one thing, it was a once in a decade chance to engage interested practioners and academics  in the US directly with the World Heritage program.  And did so in a cross disciplinary manner. It was also an opportunity to introduce the professional community to the World Heritage process and of course to US/ICOMOS as the country’s preservation organization with a global focus. Given are current political climate in the US, some persons have suggested that our discussion of World Heritage should be played down. However, I think that this is an exceptional opportunity to engage with proponents of new world heritage sites and to promote the ideas for which they stand as part of a much needed  international dialogue.


List of Themes and queries:

ARCHAEOLOGY & ANTHROPOLOGY: Are there types, regions or periods of Archaeological sites or landscapes that are underrepresented on the current list?

ARCHITECTURE & URBANISM: What types of urban heritage and architectural ensembles of outstanding universal value could address gaps of underrepresented typology, region or period?

TECHNOLOGY & INDUSTRY: What opportunities exist to address gaps related to Science, Technology, Invention and Industrial Heritage?

LIVING CULTURES & HERITAGE, two questions were asked: Are there living cultures, subcultures and examples of America’s diverse heritage that have been qualitatively underrepresented? Are there themes of migration, settlement, modes of subsistence, human interaction, cultural coexistence, spirituality and creative expression in the US that have been qualitatively underrepresented?

CULTURAL LANDSCAPES: What types of Cultural Landscapes in the US are responsive to the gaps identified on the World Heritage List, for living landscapes in particular.




Listening to Zinke: The Landscape Ahead?

By Brenda Barrett January 28, 2017
Gold Butte Nevada Photo courtesy of the Department of the Interior

Gold Butte Nevada
Photo courtesy of the Department of the Interior

At his confirmation hearing on January 17, 2017, Representative Ryan Zinke (R MT) spoke up before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and shared his vision for the position of Secretary of Interior. The leadership of the Department of Interior is central to the future of protecting the nation’s landscapes. Those who care about conservation at scale, protected areas, and our cultural heritage were listening carefully to what he had to say.

What did we hear? Zinke kicked off his opening remarks by declaring his unabashed admiration of Theodore Roosevelt as his conservation hero and he made historical references to Pinchot and Muir in framing his answers to other questions from members of the committee. So far so good,  he then laid out his top priorities for the department as:

The first is to restore trust by working with rather than against local communities and states. I fully recognize that there is distrust, anger, and even hatred against some federal management policies. Being a listening advocate rather than a deaf adversary is a good start.

 Second, is to prioritize the estimated $12.5 billion in backlog of maintenance and repair in our national parks. The president-elect is committed to a jobs and infrastructure bill, and I am going to need your help in making sure that bill includes shoring up our Nations treasures.

 And third, to ensure the professionals on the front line, our rangers and field managers, have the right tools, right resources, and flexibility to make the right decisions that give a voice to the people they serve.

For National Park advocates, his words held out real hope that promises on the campaign trail about infrastructure investments might be turned into real benefits for our aging park system. Although Zinke added a dose of reality, stating that while it is his job to convince the new president that parks should be high on the administration’s agenda, congress needs to step as well. And he asked for the committee’s help in getting the necessary funds to tackle the backlog. Drawing on his military background (he served for 26 years as a Navy Seal) he noted, “we can fly the helicopter, but you must supply the gas”.

It is also interesting that Representative Zinke’s other two priorities dealt with the human dimension of delivering the department’s mission – building trust with people on the ground is clearly influenced by his western perspective issue and authorizing the “ground troops” to implement national policy is good tactical leadership. He talked a fair bit about collaboration as a strategy and his strong support for local partners coming together to tackle conservation issues. He specifically said that to make this approach work collaborative planning needs to be incentivized. It also needs to be based on science and set targets to measure success.. On partnership programs, he emphasized his backing for permanent and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and also spoke to the importance of trails both on and off public land. Overall he emphasized the theme of consultation, collaboration and communication

At the hearing Representative Zinke stated his unequivocal support for keeping public land public.  When specifically asked, he stated, “I am absolutely against the transfer or sale of public land”. It should be noted that he has put his money where his mouth is on this issue.  Last year he left his post on the GOP platform writing committee, after the group included language in support of transferring federal lands to the states.

These are positive indicators, but one of the big questions both in the hearing room and on everyone’s mind is his position on the Antiquities Act and more specifically the recent Obama administration’s designations in Nevada and Utah. When queried, he said that the better way to designate national monuments is with the support of the adjacent communities, the states and congressional delegation. On the question of whether recently designated monuments could be de-designated, he said that was for the lawyers to decide. And under questioning, he agreed that no such process explicitly described in the act. However, he has already committed to visit the 1.35 million acres of federal land that make up Bears Ears Butte in southeastern Utah and about 300,000 acres of Gold Butte in Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas. These recently designated monuments are exemplars of the scale need to conserve our natural  and cultural heritage. How the department position on  these iconic western landscapes will be an important signpost for the future.

On hot button issues Zinke tried to strike a measured tone. When asked about renewable energy and traditional energy development on public land, he said “all of the above’ and expressed his support for a strong economy and energy independence. On climate change he agreed that the climate is changing, but did not attribute any definitive causation.

All things considered, conservationists should take heart from Zinke’s opening words at the hearing: Upfront, I am an unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and believe he had it right when he placed under federal protection millions of acres of federal lands and set aside much of it as National Forests. Today, much of those lands provide American’s the opportunity to hike, fish, camp, recreate and enjoy the great outdoors.

But here are some concluding thoughts. In the next days and months, the Department of Interior will be flooded with political operatives and representatives of energy development schemes all seeking to catch the ear of the new Secretary of Interior.  They will not be interested in the words of Teddy Roosevelt or the values that public lands offer the American people. Representative Zinke needs to hear loud and clear that his vision is strongly supported by land conservationists, sportsmen, heritage areas managers, and everyday citizens or his department will be swamped by competing agendas.


And Now for the Next Four Years

By Brenda Barrett December 12, 2016
Mount Rushmore National Memorial  Courtesey of: Wikipedia Commons

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Courtesey of: Wikipedia Commons

For years I have told my family and friends that I am one issue voter and my issue is the United States National Park Service.  Which political candidate is most committed to America’s best idea? Who embraces the vision that our parks and protected areas are part of the nation’s common wealth and should reflect the complex stories that make up our country? What party recognizes that government service has value and that protecting public lands is a collective enterprise? How will a particular candidate or party fund and invest in the now 413 park units and the many national park programs that touch almost every American community? Because these questions are not just about one government agency, they go to the heart of the conservation of our natural and cultural heritage.  As the old saying goes – How you do one thing is how you do everything.

 It is way too early to speculate and predict exactly how landscape scale conservation will fare in the next four years under newly elected president. An earlier article (Landscape Scale Conservation: The Next Four Years) August 30, 2016 examined both the Democratic and Republican platforms with the caveat that these documents are always imperfect reflections of what direction a presidential candidate will take.  Now while it is still early days, we have somewhat more concrete directions from the newly elected President Donald Trump’s 110 Day Plan.

Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Energy and environmental protection take up a lot of space in this plan with calls to rescind restrictions on drilling and mining, lift roadblocks to pipelines and energy infrastructure, and cancel our international support for climate change programs. This part of the agenda puts a big bulls eye on all public lands including national parks.  Also of concern is a proposed hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health). Most heart breaking is that this was proposed not for financial expediency, but is listed as number two of six measures designed to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, DC.  What does this say to the next generation who want to grow up to be foresters, wildlife biologist or national park rangers? What are we to do with all those Junior Ranger badges?

Print Shop Benjamin Franklin Memorial Philadelphia PA

Print Shop
Benjamin Franklin Memorial Philadelphia PA

So what now? This is still early days and there will be a new Secretary of Interior and a new Director of the National Park Service who will bring their ideas on how to implement this agenda. However, the beauty of large landscape work is that it draws strength from a mix of public and private partnerships. This model of dispersed leadership and support makes it a resilient approach. One that can navigate the political headwinds that may lie ahead. For those of you engaged with cultural and natural conservation work in you landscape large, keep up the good work and double down. And consider joining up with a larger community to advocate for conservation in the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson just to name some of my presidential conservation  heroes!

Let me suggest some of my favorite places to find like-minded people with powerful ideas:

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks    – Membership is open to anyone who ever worked for the NPS and there is a supporter category as those who align with the mission of protecting parks. This small but, high profile organization has an effective record of advocating for National Parks issues from snowmobiling in Yellowstone to defending the agency’s management policies.  Membership is free although donations are encouraged and comes with a monthly on-line newsletter. Contributions of time, experience as well as dollars are always welcome.

Practioner’s Network for Large Landscape Conservation  A broad based coalition established to advance the practice of large landscape conservation across all sectors and geographies. The Network’s 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. Membership donations are voluntary and your expertise and advocacy are always welcome.

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.  A basic membership is $40 and the weekly online newsletter covers breaking news and what is going on in the world of US heritage. In partnership with other national organizations, Preservation Action organizes an annual lobby day in Washington DC in mid-March.

US ICOMOS  Maintaining our connections to global heritage is more important than ever. A membership in 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. Join at the international level and your ICOMOS card will open doors, at no or low cost, to museums and historic sites around the world.

Make it your New Year’s resolution to join at least one of these organizations and give yourself and others the gift of fellowship and advocacy.






Lamar Buffalo Ranch and the Landscape of Wildlife Conservation

By Brenda Barrett November 1, 2016
Lamar Buffalo Ranch Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Buffalo Ranch
Yellowstone National Park

Oh Give me a home where the buffalo roam” goes the old cowboy song, but the fact that 21st century citizens can still enjoy the star of this song was a very close call.  According to the U S Fish and Wildlife Service   estimates of the North American bison population at the time of European contact range from 30-75 million animals. However, by 1900 intensive hunting and a purposeful program of eradication to deprive American Indians of their livelihood had reduced the population to near extinction.  At that time Yellowstone National Park counted only 25 bison in residence. Thanks to a citizen’s campaign, Congress allocated funds to purchase 21 additional animals from private sources and begin a breeding program at what is now known as the Lamar Ranch in the park’s Lamar Valley.

American Bison  Yellowstone National Park

American Bison
Yellowstone National Park

This is a success story. Today over 4,000 bison roam the range in Yellowstone National Park and they are a character defining part of the landscape. The evocative Lamar Buffalo Ranch, with its quintessential weathered western buildings (1905- 1930),  is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors who stop by the ranch can get a short history from an interpretive sign. But less well known, is the role the ranch played in the reintroduction of wolves to the park.

The last wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park was eliminated in 1926. Again after a long campaign and much controversy, Congress appropriated the funds for a reintroduction  program. In 1995,  thirty-one Canadian  Grey Wolves were brought to pens at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch to acclimatize to the park before being released. Today there are approximately 100 wolves in the park with many of the packs concentrated in the rich hunting ground of the Lamar Valley.  The ripple effect on the elk herd specifically and the park’s ecosystem overall of the introduction of a top predator is fodder for another story at another time.

Wildlife Watching Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Wildlife Watching Lamar Valley
Yellowstone National Park

I would like to make a different point. Millions of tourists come to Yellowstone every year. Thousands of them line the roads through the Lamar Valley – getting up at dawn and watching for hours to marvel at herds of buffalo and to catch a glimpse of a wolf. The Lamar Buffalo  Ranch now serves as an education center for the Yellowstone Association and the buildings have been restored as models of off the grid environmental stewardship. But I wonder how many understand the full story of human intervention into this place. Preventing the American Bison from disappearing from this landscape took intense effort.  As for the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, the park web site describes the work that took place there in the following terms, “ A program to raise bison like domestic cattle in Yellowstone may seem incongruous and unnecessary in retrospect..”  I am not sure that is how I would tell the story. Yes, yes the vista of grazing herds in the Lamar Valley may seem so natural us today that we may think it always looked that way. And yes, we may want to repress the role that humans played in wrangling bison back into the landscape, let alone the tale of how we slaughtered the millions.  But that would be a mistake.

Morning in the Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Morning in the Lamar Valley
Yellowstone National Park

And as for the wolves, the reintroduction is still so controversial that the park’s web site looks like the docket of a small claims court of environmental justice where wolves are listed and delisted as endangered species with head snapping frequency. The role of the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the wolf story has not yet even made into the official history. But when you go to Yellowstone (and I hope you will) head to the Lamar Valley, stand in front of the ranch, and contemplate the role we as humans have played in creating and almost destroying  the wildlife that we enjoy today. And know that nothing is static, and only continued advocacy and at times active intervention will conserve these  landscapes for future generations. .





A Nature Culture Journey at the World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i

By Brenda Barrett October 1, 2016
September Sunset Waikiki Beach Honolulu

September Sunset Waikiki Beach Honolulu

The Hawaiian Islands were created by a chain of volcanic hot spots in the Pacific and long settled by voyageurs who travelled thousands of miles across open water. The interrelationship and adaptation of nature and culture on these islands by early settlement and more recently by the arrival of Europeans and others starting in 1778 present lessons for the future of conservation. So it was fitting that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held its first ever World Conservation Congress  in the United States in Hawai’i. For ten days in September (1-10, 2016) more than 10,000 conservationist leaders from at least 193 countries gathered to advance conservation thinking and strategies around the theme of “Planet at a Crossroads”.  The need to approach conservation at the landscape scale was implicit or explicit in most of the presentations and the importance of looking at nature and cultural in a holistic manner was highlighted at the congress by a track (called a journey) dedicated just to the topic.

IUCN and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites – the cultural heritage counterpart to IUCN) co-sponsored the Nature-Culture Journey   and a companion World Heritage Journey at the conference. This special track helped bring together a diverse community of international conservationists who are members of indigenous community groups, working with World Heritage Sites, large landscape practioners, and representing the traditional ecological knowledge of working landscapes and seascapes.  Featuring over 50 related sessions, the journey examined the growing evidence that natural and cultural heritage are closely interconnected in many landscapes/seascapes and the need to better integrate both disciples for effective conservation outcomes.  Both natural and cultural heritage experts face similar conservation challenges in places with complex interrelated ecological and cultural networksoften across large landscapes – and each brings a body of complementary knowledge and capacities.

The connections and insights gained during the journey underscored the need to work more closely together to advance good conservation practice. This dialogue produced a statement of commitmentsMālama Honua: to care for our island Earth that was signed by the Nature Culture Journey attendees at the Journey’s closing reception.  This statement (currently being translated into French and Spanish) will soon be on-line and available for additional signatures. Follow up discussions are being planned for the 2017 ICOMOS General Assembly in Delhi, India. Based on the promising work in Hawai’i, strengthening the connections around a shared interest in nature and culture conservation is an idea that is now on the horizon.

Many thanks to Nora Mitchell one of the lead planners of the Nature Culture Journey for her contribution to this article.










Landscape Conservation: The Next Four Years

By Brenda Barrett August 30, 2016
Maine North Woods Photographer: George Wuethner

Maine North Woods
Photographer: George Wuethner

How will the next election impact the idea of large landscape conservation? This topic is not the stuff of campaign speeches or sadly even photo ops. No one spoke at the conventions in Cleveland or Philadelphia about how large landscapes made a difference in their life.  However, landscape scale practitioners are interested in how the next election might change the landscape.  And one place to look for clues is in the platform of each party. Both the Democrats and the Republican have adopted platforms that offer the voting public some ideas about the party’s principles or goals. Not surprisingly, they offer very different perspectives on landscape conservation

There is no question that the landscape scale approach has prospered under the current administration. Under the leadership of Secretary Ken Salazar (2009-2013) followed by Secretary Sally Jewell (2013 to present), the US Department of the Interior made landscape conservation an organizing principle for much of the agency’s work. For example, the department launched the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives  to serve as a centerpiece of these efforts Other department’s including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Defense, and others all adopted a big picture strategy. See the recent National Academy Report for a snapshot shot of these program.

So let’s take a look. The greatest divergence between the two parties is the protection of public lands. The Republicans state that “experience has shown… that private ownership is the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship.”  The Democratic platform lead with the statement that “…we need policies and investments that will keep America’s public lands public.” In analyzing these two positions, it should be noted that the interpretation in some media outlets that the Republican platform endorses the sale or transfer of our National Parks is an overstatement. However, it is a fair to read their platform as saying that other public lands might receive a lot less protection. This an important distinction as many landscape scale efforts feature a concentration of different kinds of public lands to pull the whole initiative together: Think of Waterton Peace Park in the center of Crown of the Continent or Everglades National Park in South Florida. In both these cases and many more, the public lands of the US Forest Service lands or the US Fish and Wild Refuges are important to reaching critical conservation mass in these landscapes.

A related issue is how America’s public lands will be managed and who should be in the conservation driver’s seat. The Democratic party goals are generally about conservation and protection of all public lands and waters and the document even proposes a funding program to expand state, federal and local parks. The Republican platform takes  another tack. It states that “…(we) must balance economic development and private property rights in the short run with conservation goals over the long run”.  And speaking specifically of the west, suggests that more public land could be made available to ranching, mining and forestry. The underlying principle being that these lands are best managed by the people who are closest to them.

Another difference is that the Democratic platform explicitly identifies cultural resources as a value to be protected along with natural landscapes as a way to help tell the story of America’s complex and diverse history. This topic is not addressed in the Republican document.

One more indicator of how landscape conservation might fare in the future is in the two parties’ transition teams. The Republicans’ have selected Governor Chris Christie. He has recently run into flak from conservation voters for vetoing open space funding  in his home state of New Jersey.  While the Democratic team will be headed by no other than the former Obama administration Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar coupled with a platform  thatincludes a number of his favored initiatives “…Everglades, Great Lakes, the Arctic, and all that makes America’s great outdoors priceless.”

In conclusion the beauty of large landscape work is that it draws strength from a mix of public and private partnerships. This model of dispersed leadership and support makes it more resilient approach that can probably survive whatever political headwinds are encountered.  However, taking the two platforms at their word one direction could be smoother sailing than the other.








Lessons in Partnerships along the Appalachian Trail

By Brenda Barrett July 29, 2016
Appalachian Trail Museum in Pennsylvania's Pine Grove Furnace State Park

Appalachian Trail Museum in Pennsylvania’s Pine Grove Furnace State Park

I live in central Pennsylvania near the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail (AT) and my favorite place, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, is at its epicenter. In a visit early this July (2016) the place was hopping.  Thru-hikers, both end to enders and sectional hikers mingled with day users on the trail, which runs through the center of park. And there is a lot of outdoors to enjoy. However, it is generally only the distance hikers with calories to burn who stop by the park’s historic general store and attempt the half gallon challenge.  Read more on this  ice cream eating tradtion.  Or cluster around the  park’s  limited electrical outlets to charge up their smart phones and catch up with friends and family. Lucky long distance hikers can even get a bunk bed at the park’s hostel. Known as the Iron Masters Mansion, it was once the impressive  home of the owners of the nearby iron furnace. “Yes business has been very brisk this year” says the Mansion’s innkeeper Thom Morris, “but we were expecting it.”

View of the Appalachian Trail from the porch of the Iron Masters Mansion now a hostel in Pine Grove Furnace State Park

View of the Appalachian Trail from the porch of the Iron Masters Mansion now a hostel in Pine Grove Furnace State Park

Laurie Potteiger, a spokesperson for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), confirmed that use of the trail is rising. The number of northbound thru-hikers passing through  Harpers Ferry is  up by 11% this year. Interest in the trail spiked after the publication of Bill Bryson’s amusing tale  A Walk in the Woods (1998), which has been recently been released as a rather  sappy movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. Pottegeiger noted that “We don’t have good data about what spurred the increases this year, but we have been seeing an increase of about 5-10% among northbound thru-hikers every year since about 2007. I have yet to talk to a thru-hiker who got 100% of their inspiration from the movie, but some were reminded of a long-held dream when they saw the film or the trailer and were inspired to take the plunge this year because of it.”

The rising numbers of users has raised concerns about overuse of the AT by some in the trail comment. However, what is of more interest to this writer is the lessons that the trail and the venerable ATC, the nonprofit organizations that manages the trail,  offers to anyone interested in protected area management.  The story of a long distance trail envisioned in the 1920s to run from Maine to Georgia and then actualized by the work of determined volunteers is well known.  What is less discussed is how over time this resilient partnership model harnessed the efforts of trail clubs, state and local parks, private property owners as well as the power of federal funding and even eminent domain to secure the trails right of way forever.  And how in 1984 the National Park Service  entered into an unprecedented agreement with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a non-profit organization to take responsibility for the length of the trail.

Exhibit on Earl Schaffer - First AT thru-hiker Courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Museum

Exhibit on Earl Schaffer – First AT thru-hiker
Courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Museum

For this reason, it was a treat to read Sarah Mittlefehldt’s book Tangled Roots: The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics (2013).  The book covers the history of the early decades of the development of the trail. But the book really get interesting when she tackles the intersection of the trail with the growth of the environmental movement, the need to secure  permanent protection for the pathway, and in particular the accommodations that had to be made with the rise in the property rights movement. Fittingly, she labels the introduction to her book The Tortuous Path toward Public – Private Partnership. Building on the book’s title she describes the creation of the AT of today as combining “the horizontal dendritic roots of grassroots social action with the strong central taproot of federal authority.”

A thru- hiker (2007) herself Mittlefehldt brings a close to the ground perspective on the value of the trail as well as a sensitivity to the viewpoints of local landowners and communities. I particularly like the recognition she gives of the working landscapes that the trail traverses. She applauds the ATC for its hard won efforts to  maintain close relationship between the trail community and its neighbors. Also the ATC’s work to enhance  economic and conservation opportunities through programs like Trail Towns, a Trail to Every Classroom, and Gateways community forums. Most importantly she recognizes that the success of the AT could a guide to how parks and protected areas will be acquired and managed in the future. Some of her closing thoughts on the lessons from the trail are:

  • The value of building long term bipartisan leadership at the local, state and national level.
  • The importance of a campaign of coordinated grassroots action that can operate on multiple scales from local to national.
  • The pivotal role the federal government has played in protecting the AT’s fragile right of way.
Appalachian Trail Museum a stop on trail in Pine Grove Furnace State Park

Appalachian Trail Museum a stop on trail in Pine Grove Furnace State Park

Interestingly, in this political season, Mittlefehldt also takes the position that conservation is compatible with conservatism, arguing that the differences between political parties in many cases are not so much about the need to protect the environment, but about “the means by which decision makers propose to do it.” The principles of the AT that rest on decentralized community-based management, the role of the private sector volunteers all resting on the bedrock of patriotism and love of country are conservative values.  She highlights the relationship between the environmental movement and traditional rural land uses of as a topic worthy of further exploration. The AT as it winds its way through working forests, farm fields, and community backyards illustrates both the tensions, compromises, and benefits of the trail’s  people centered approach.

But to conclude this story,  let us return to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. There just steps from the AT itself  is a another gem the  Appalachian Trail Museum .  Through engaging exhibits and hard working volunteers , the museum connect park visitors and hikers with the history of the people who made and continue to make the AT possible. The museum, located in a repurposed grist mill, is a multi-purpose venue with a rest area that welcomes thru-hikers and a fun new children’s center – perfect for inspiring ambition in the next generation go  all the way.

Tangled Roots: The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics, Sarah Mittlefehldt, University of Washington Press (2013)





Highway Planning on a Landscape Scale: The Next Generation

By Brenda Barrett June 29, 2016
Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project Courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project
Courtesey Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

What happens when a highway project long planned to improve the functionality of the overall transportation system runs up against newer approaches of planning on a landscape scale? I recently spoke to this issue at the Pennsylvania Statewide Conference on Heritage   (June  6-8, 2016 Lewisburg PA). The project in question, the  Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project (CSVT) ,  was under construction nearby and involved a bypass and a major new bridge crossing over the Susquehanna River. It  was planned to remedy traffic congestion on the one of the state’s major north south corridors and reroute through traffic, particularly truck traffic, out of small towns in the region.  But the project’s history was anything, but straightforward.

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn Courtesey Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn
Courtesey  Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Planning for the project began long ago with the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the selected alignment approved in 2003. After project design was underway, it was put on hold due to lack of funding. With the passage of a new funding package in 2013, the project was reactivated. However, during that ten-year hiatus ideas about the cultural and natural values in the region had undergone a substantial shift. The project now crossed through the Susquehanna Greenway , a 500 miles state greenway. This section of the river was now designated as a National Recreational Trail by the Secretary of the Interior. And most significantly, the river corridor was incorporated into the CaptainJohn Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.  Originally authorized by Congress in 2006, its goals was to help the visitors to the Chesapeake Bay understand the significance of John Smith’s explorations and his impact upon the rich American Indian cultures and to appreciate and care for the life and landscape of this national treasure. The trail now extends up the many of the tributaries of the Chesapeake in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

When long delayed construction of the CSVT  was announced, all of these new designations brought new partners to the table  seeking to conserve landscape scale cultural and natural resources in the project area – resources that had not even been envisioned in 2003. The traditional transportation planning approach had been to identify individual historic or archeological sites and the specific location of a threatened flora or faunal species and then avoid or mitigate site specific impacts. Now this whole approach was being called into question. In the case of the CSVT compromises were negotiated and in particular minimization strategies were developed to reduce impact on the Susquehanna River crossing, provide additional public access, and offer more consultation on riverfront development in the future.

btn15_mapBut what about the next time?  To begin with we need to recast our perspective to embrace a larger landscape approach. If the one of purposes of planning for infrastructure development such as transportation projects is to do so in a way that minimizes the impact on cultural and natural resources and maximizes the benefit to the public, then we need to stay abreast of the new frameworks by which these disciplines define themselves.

Let’s start with Natural Resources. The field has long used an ecosystem approach, which understands the importance of the interaction of organisms with their wider physical environment. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences on large landscapes  tackled the central question of the best way to conserve the natural world noting that conservation challenges exceed the capacity of any single entity or protected habitat. Increased urbanization, extreme weather events, and fragmentation of habitat threaten both flora and fauna require that resource conservation take a broad landscape scale approach and build in connectivity for species to migrate and have room to range. So, it is not enough to avoid the spot where an endangered species was last spotted. What is needed is to predict where it is going, where can it thrive in the future.

Things are also shifting in the world of Cultural Resources. Historic preservation practioners know that that the discipline has moved from identifying individual landmarks to considering historic districts and now whole landscapes. The National Park Service has been a leader in calling for this re-examination of cultural landscape approach. Our commonwealth has also been in the forefront  develop ing a comprehensive multiple property documentation for the   Agricultural Resources of Pennsylvania, a good example of evaluating a complex living landscape. It is true that cultural resources are not going to migrate or fly away, but we need to accept that they are more dynamic and larger than our past concepts of what is significant. Cultural resources are best understood in a larger context that tells the whole story.

Finally, Recreational Resources are also being viewed through a wide angled lens.In the middle Atlantic many rivers and stream system are being developed into a statewide network of water trails. Former rail lines and canals are now the backbone of  trail systems running for hundreds of miles across the state. And of course the National Park Service manages National Scenic and Historic Trails system that crisscross the whole country. The most iconic being the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia and a chunk of PA in between. The connectivity of these resources is critical.  Once a trail crossing is severed, it may be impossible or at best expensive to reconnect.

 This new larger perspective presents management challenges, but there are also new regional partnerships to help coordinate these regional geographies. For example, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is fortunate in having a whole host of such organizations. The list includes multiple National Heritage Areas and a robust state heritage areas with 12 designated areas dedicated to melding natural, cultural and  recreational objectives along with community revitalization goals. The states’ Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has launched 7 conservation landscapes to drive strategic investment and actions around sustainability, conservation, community revitalization, and recreational projects. And the agency has taken a leadership role in statewide recreational resource planning.

In addition, land trusts and other regionally focused land conservation groups have been expanding rapidly – a survey a number of years ago counted over 130 of such initiatives in New England alone as well as the newly launched “Practioner’s Network for Large Landscapes”. The National Academy of Science ‘s 2015 report identified over 20 federal programs that are utilizing a landscape approach in the Department of Interior, of course, but also in agriculture and defense.

There are some difficulties as the older paradigms about place and partnerships have expanded.  Our project management skills and our regulatory tools have yet to catch up to this new way of thinking. While there are no overnight fixes and project planners will always have to play catch up,  I do want to conclude with a couple of specific suggestions:

1) Harness the power of big data – Big data is defined as large (or extremely large) data sets that may be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. The good news is that this is an area where transportation planners have been early adopters using GIS mapping in particular. But more can be done, for example,  adding the layers for rivers and trails, and other resources identified by partnership organizations. This will provide a leg up in project scoping. To get a taste of what these data bases can offer, take a look at the work of Landscope Chesapeake.  A data base that shows all the public lands and privately protected areas, trails and access points and also links in the conservation partners and state program. What a great place to begin high level 30,000-foot infrastructure planning.

2) Harness the Power of Partnerships – While much talked about, this is not easy to accomplish. And It also can seem like a burdensome add-on to what is an already crowded project planning schedule. But let’s look at the practical side,  effective public input or even better public engagement is both required as part of project planning and can make the project go more smoothly. Many of the heritage areas, land trusts, recreation organizations and conservation landscapes have identified significant resources and developed resource management plans with extensive public input.  They know what is important to the impacted region. This is great way for infrastructure planners to identify potential challenges and opportunities as well as reaching many of people who live on the ground where a project is happening.

3) Harness the power of other programs – Everyone should take a lesson from productive partnership organizations and look for the sweet spots where multiple objectives intersect. And note – this does not mean that one partner pays all – success is when projects integrate public and private dollars along with volunteer energy to deliver better communities. So think outside the box who else might have a stake in the ground? A good way to start is with an interagency approach. Who else is planning something in the region how can their work be coordinated with infrastructure development? What is in their budget and how can dollars be leveraged? High level planning that is open to new ideas is one way of accomplish these ends.

In conclusion, If I have one concern, it is that much of our planning in the past has zeroed in way too soon on way too small geography and then come up with the three least bad alternatives. Perhaps it would behoove us to spend a little more time in the stratosphere  identifying partner and programs that can help everyone be successful and accomplish their respective missions.















The Creation of the Rice Coast: A Global Exchange

By Brenda Barrett April 27, 2016
Slave Dwelling Mansfield Plantation Georgetown SC

Slave Dwelling
Mansfield Plantation Georgetown SC

Plantations line the coast and tidal rivers in the states of Georgia and South Carolina. Today many of these properties are recognized by listing in the national register of historic places or as national historic landmarks as well as being conserved as historic sites and state parks. They preserve the plantation houses, designed landscapes, and, in a few places, the dwellings of enslaved people. And, here and there, one can find a few still active and tended plantation cemeteries. Although the region has been impacted by industrial development and even more so by resorts and second homes, its natural resource values are  recognized: for example, part of the region has been designated as the Carolinian-South Atlantic Biosphere Reserve. There are also significant public and private open space conservation efforts underway including the Ashepoo, Combahee and South Edisto Basin in South Carolina.  Known as the ACE Basin Project this is a multiple stakeholder effort to manage the coastal area and adjacent 100,000 acres as diverse wildlife habitat –  one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the nation’s east coat.

Cemetery Mansfield Plantation

Cemetery Mansfield Plantation

What is not as evident is how these pieces – the plantations, the wildlife preserves, and coastal waterways- fit together, to tell a powerful story. This is a unique landscape that represents one of the less well known chapters of the “Columbian Exchange”.  A term used to describe the exchange between the “new” and “old” worlds that triggered the dramatic transformation of the culture and environment of the Atlantic World ecosystems. The impact wrought by Europeans are well understood as is the contribution of crops like corn, tomatoes, potatoes and tobacco on Europe. What is not well known is the transfer of indigenous knowledge of rice growing from the west coast of Africa to North America as part of the establishment of plantation slavery. This contribution included crucial technologies such as irrigation and water control and techniques of milling as well as a skilled labor force with centuries of experience.

Diorama Rice Fields  Courtesy of the Rice Museum Georgetown SC

Diorama Rice Fields
Courtesy of the Rice Museum Georgetown SC

This transmission of knowledge of traditional agricultural systems is being increasingly recognized as the meeting point of culture and environment. And the impact of this Atlantic exchange on the southern coast of the United States has left indelible marks on the land. It is estimated that the along the Cooper River alone the amount of earth moved to create the rice fields and canal systems would have filled the great pyramid at Cheops six times. The wealth from rice growing made Charleston and Georgetown some of the richest cities in the new nation and left a legacy of world class architecture.

Former Rice Fields CawCaw Interpretive Center in Charleston County

Former Rice Fields
CawCaw Interpretive Center in Charleston County

After the Civil War the amount of land in rice cultivation gradually dwindled. The enormous labor to maintain the systems of carefully calibrated tidal wetlands made rice production less and less economic viable. Rice growing moved to Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The vast coastal irrigation systems then flooded creating a labyrinth of wetlands – ideal habit for birds and other animals. Many former rice plantations became hunting clubs for wealthy northerners and are now the backbone of the regions conserved lands. The plantation houses and historic districts in Charleston and Georgetown became winter retreats, second homes and  showplaces for newer tourism economy.

But what of the people who helped create this landscape? Overtime many moved north for jobs in an industrializing region. Others stayed, but struggled to maintain their place and cultural traditions on a land that was increasingly changed by development and new economic drivers.  Recently the significance of this community has been recognized with such initiatives as the Gullah Geechee National Cultural Corridor .This is a good start, but what is needed is a full out effort that integrates our understanding of the region’s cultural and natural heritage with the living traditions of today’s descendants. And then places it within the context of transatlantic slave trade, the market in global commodities, and the vast international Atlantic exchange of indigenous knowledge that were the forces behind the creation the cultural landscape of the rice coast.

Plantation House Hampton Plantation State Historic Site McClellandville SC

Plantation House
Hampton Plantation State Historic Site McClellandville SC

Fortunately, there is an effort underway to do just this, the Mission of the Charleston World Heritage Coalition  is to nominate iconic buildings and landscapes representative of the Charleston Lowcountry plantation-driven culture as a UNESCO World Heritage Site . Perhaps at last the whole story will be told.



San Antonio Missions: Learning from the World Heritage Experience

By Brenda Barrett February 21, 2016
Mission San Jose San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Credit: Dan Stern

Mission San Jose
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Credit: Dan Stern

On October 17, 2015 dignitaries from around the country gathered to celebrate the inscription of the San Antonio Missions as the 23rd World Heritage Site in the Untied States (US) and the first in Texas. The San Antonio Missions are a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along an over seven mile stretch of the San Antonio River. Inscribed under Work Heritage Criterion ii the missions are described as “ an example of the interweaving of the cultures of the Spanish and the Coahuiltecan and other indigenous peoples, illustrated in a variety of elements, including the integration of the indigenous settlements towards the central plaza, the decorative elements of the churches which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous natural designs, and the post-secularization evidence which remains in several of the missions and illustrates the loyalty to the shared values beyond missionary rule. The substantial remains of the water distribution systems are yet another expression of this interchange between indigenous peoples, missionaries, and colonizers that contributed to a fundamental and permanent change in the cultures and values of those involved.”

Behind the well-deserved World Heritage hoopla and the carefully crafted statement of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, there is more than a decade of hard work. As interested in World Heritage recognition grows in the country and around the globe, what can we learn from the hard won experience of the San Antonio Missions? A few lesson for existing and aspiring World Heritage properties are:

Think long term – While the first official step is gaining a spot on the state parties tentative list; this is preceded by many prerequisites. For example n the US cultural properties must first be designated as a National Historic Landmark. All this takes a good deal of time. The San Antonio Missions were officially proposed for the World Heritage Tentative list in a 2006 Federal Register listing.

Seek Out champions –The International Office of the National Park Service (NPS) manages the development of the tentative list and in partnership the State Department determines, which sites will be proffered to the world body ICOMOS for consideration. There is no question that determined champions are critical. In the case of the missions the number of advocates was along one starting with the nationally respected San Antonio Conservation Societ . Also important were the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park’s  friends groups Los Compadres. Finally, unified political support at the city, county, state and national support was invaluable.

 Gain expert support – Only properties that meet the World Heritage criteria for Outstanding Universal Value can be considered for inscription. The NPS and the park leadership contributed their expertise behind the effort to nominate the missions. They helped convene an experts meeting 2012 to help frame the argument for World Heritage designation. They also hired an professional in preparing the dossier for presentation to the World Heritage Committee.

Anticipate the Management Plan – Just as challenging in many ways as making the case for Outstanding Universal Value is developing a credible management plan for the resource. Particular difficult is to develop a buffer to zone to protect the property. While this might be easier in a discrete historic sites, the missions located in a complex urban and rural with multiple property owners. What made the management plan for the resource credible was all the historic preservation land use controls that had been implemented for the region over the last several decades.

Be prepared to spend money – A World Heritage nomination is a pricey document. While the San Antonio supporter raised several hundred thousand dollars, they estimate that over half a million in in kind services were contributed to the effort. These included a NPS expert staff position In addition, much of lead writer and historian’s time was donated as well a, student interns and untold volunteer hours from the friends group and the Conservation Society helped reduce the costs.

After designation the real work begins! – After a site is listed what is next? In San Antonio a community where tourism is economic development; the promotional opportunities of the designation are very important. However, the community is also using the designation to deepen their connection to the past and the heritage of its diverse citizens. To learn more about ongoing programing on the World Heritage at the missions, visit the excellent San Antonio Missions Word Heritage *Our Heritage web site. 

Many thanks to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park staff Susan Snow who serves as the site’s World Heritage Coordinator and  to Tom Costanos, Volunteer and Partnership Coordinator, both of whom gave generously of their time. All the wise words were from them, any errors are mine!






National Academy releases report on Large Landscape Conservation   

By Brenda Barrett January 15, 2016
Yellowstone to Yukon Landscape Credit: Harvey Locke

Yellowstone to Yukon Landscape Credit: Harvey Locke

In November 2015 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report “An Evaluation of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives”, which concluded that a landscape approach is needed to meet the nation’s conservation challenges and that the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) provide a framework for addressing that need. The NAS undertook the study pursuant to a Congressional directive to evaluate the LCC program.

For those not familiar with the LCCs, the initiative was launched by a Department of Interior Secretarial Order in 2009 specifically to enhance the landscape-level approach to conservation. The intent of the Secretarial Order was to design a cooperative effort to bridge jurisdictional boundaries across agencies within DOI as well as across other federal, state, and tribal agencies and private lands. The LCCs consists of 22 individual, self-directed conservation areas that cover all of the U.S. including islands, and parts of Canada, Mexico and Pacific Islands. A LCC Council composed of federal, state, local, tribal, and nongovernmental organizations manages the network and has adopted an overall strategic plan.

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

What were the highlights of the recent NAS evaluation? Most importantly the report identified the need for a landscape approach to resource conservation. The 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 a time of scarce resources. The committee concluded that given this national need to work at a landscape scale, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives were an appropriate way for the Department of Interior to address this need.

The NAS was also charged with examining other Federal programs with similar goals to assess overlaps and issues of coordination. The report concluded that the LCCs were uniquely positioned to address landscape conservation needs at a national scale, for all natural and cultural resources, in a way that bridges research and management efforts. For those interested in learning more about the range of Federal landscape programs, the report is valuable resource offering a catalog of 20 other federal agency landscape initiatives and providing an in depth analysis of four of them.

Finally, the report stated that after a little more than five years, it is too early to assess the outcomes of the program or to expect to see much in ways of improving the management and conservation of habitat and fish and wildlife species. The evaluation process needs to be improved such that the Network as a whole can measure and demonstrate how they have advanced the goals of the Network and its partners. However, it noted that the LCCs had achieved numerous objectives and milestones, especially related to developing collaborative governance and shared conservation goals.

 The NAS concluded that the LCCs and the LCC Network have the necessary  elements and structure to deliver on the national need for a landscape approach the individual LCCs can point to many early accomplishments, and have made progress toward the LCC Network’s high-level goals related to addressing conservation strategy, developing collaborative conservation, and advancing science for conservation.

The report is an important affirmation that resource conservation must be tackled on a landscape scale. Also of interest to on-the-ground practitioners are the case studies profiling the evaluation and outcomes of some longer running landscape scale initiatives (Chapter 6). These include National Heritage Areas, Pennsylvania Conservation Landscapes, Yellowstone to Yukon, and the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture. The report notes the important lessons to be learned from these programs that have been in existence for much longer period of time than the LCCs. These include such critical components as a unifying theme, strong stakeholder engagement, adaptive management, strategic planning efforts, metrics to aggregate project impacts, leveraging, and a lead agency that provides resources and/or leadership.


The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.  For more information, visit




The 2016 Federal Budget: How did Large Landscapes Fare?

By Brenda Barrett January 11, 2016

small-logo-lighthouseAfter months of uncertainty, weeks of negotiations and two short-term extensions to keep the government open, Congress passed and the President signed the 2009 page omnibus spending Bill, titled the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. How did federal initiatives that support landscape scale work and fund our natural and cultural conservation program fare?


The Land and Water Conservation Fund

Ding, Ding, Ding! Only three dings as Congress limited reauthorization of the now 50-year old fund to just three years. However, the good news is that it is still around and with $450 million allocated for the coming fiscal year much good work can be accomplished at the state and national level. Landscape work was specifically recognized in an appropriations for a number of large scale projects including an appropriation for the Rivers of the Chesapeake. This Collaborative Landscape proposal received $11 million for land conservation in the Chesapeake region and $2 million for supporting a range of public access and conservation efforts along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. It is estimated that this targeted funding will protect 2,100 acres of land in this threatened watershed.

The Historic Preservation Fund

small-logo-bridgeNot quite such good news to kick off the celebration of the fiftieth Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. The appropriations bill did not include the reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund, which expired on September 30th. 2015. This means that action on a bill (HR 2817) to reauthorize the fund will have to wait till the New Year. However, there was some good news. Overall the bill funds the HPF at $65.41 million, an increase of $9 million over FY15 enacted levels.

The funding breakdown for State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices is as follows: $46.925 million for SHPOs (equal to FY15 enacted levels),
$9.985 million for THPOs ($1 million above FY15 enacted levels),
$8 million in grants to preserve the sites and stories of the Civil Rights Movement and $500,000 in grants for underrepresented communities.

The National Heritage Areas

Generally good news as funding remained level at $19,821 million. Since the program has been without strong administration support, just holding on to a level appropriation has been an annual struggle. In addition the 2016 act extended the funding authorization for three areas and increased the funding authorization caps for four other areas. Overall Congress showed an interest in sustaining the program.

One twist to watch is the transfer of $625,000 funding that in the past went to the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor   from the national heritage areas program account to the new Blackstone Valley Historic Park. As for now the heritage corridor and the new park are working closely together. The heritage corridor’s level of staffing and on the ground facilities like visitor centers are a boon to a park that is just finding its feet. How will blurring of the lines between what has been traditionally been an external program and a new unit of the national park system work out in the long run? Since this is a year-to-year arrangement, we have to wait and see.

The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

small-logo-archaeologistFive years ago the Department of the Interior launched the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) to better integrate science and management to address climate change and other landscape scale issues through collaborative networks that are grounded in science. As one might imagine congressional funding for this program has been a point of contention. Despite threats to severely reduce or even eliminate the program, the final appropriation for the 2016 budget the LCC was only reduced by $1 million in the Cooperative Landscapes account — from $13,988,000 in FY15 to $12,988,0.  The LCC budget in the Adaptive Science account remains at the FY15 level — $10,517,000. So the final outcome should be seen as a win for the landscape approach to resource management. To learn more about the LCCs read the just released National Academy report A Review of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.  

Overall this is good news considering the current congressional environment. Can we see any patterns in these encouraging outcomes? Well a few:

  • The public sees such programs, particularly the long established ones, as beneficial and conserving the things they care about.
  • Advocacy is an essential part of program survival. High marks go to the coalition to reauthorize the Land and Water program. They have had an impressive ground game and media presence.
  • While not conclusive, positive evaluations of the program such as the recent study on the LCCs and the reports on the National Heritage Areas might have turned the tide on the funding issue.

Readers do you have any other observation? All good ideas welcomed as next year will not be any easier!

PS If you like the posters celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, you can order them at the Preservation 50 web site!  




Jeju Island Korea Hosts International Experts on Cultural Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett November 20, 2015
The World Heritage listed Seongsan Peak at Sunrise

The World Heritage listed Seongsan Peak at Sunrise

Cultural landscapes are often defined as geographic areas of natural and cultural resources with associated historical, cultural and or aesthetic values. One way to sharpen our focus on the components of a landscape is to experience the combination of these resources through a new lens. Jeju Island is a spectacular place to do this. Often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea, Jeju is a volcanic island 56 miles off the coast of the South Korean mainland. Some of the island’s most outstanding natural features have been designated as the country’s only natural world heritage listing, otherwise known as the Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes (2007).

Traditional Volcanic Rock Walls  Jeju Island

Traditional Volcanic Rock Walls Jeju Island

The island’s cultural landscapes, although not yet listed, are also very distinctive. For centuries residents have carved fields out of the rocky soil creating thousands of kilometers of still extant stonewalls. The underlying basalt was also used for clusters of farmhouses in villages around the island and for massive fortifications to protect it’s shores. The sea has always been an important part of the region’s life. Today, Jeju has been discovered as a tourist destination for the beaches, the natural wonders, and more recently the rural landscape. Over 10 million tourists visit Jeju a year, which for an island with a population of 600,000, places a lot of stress on the limited resource base. A recent initiative strives to spread the visitors around through the development of walking trails known as Olles.  These well maintained trails direct visitors both along the coast and also off the beaten path to scenic overlooks and into traditional villages and agricultural areas through the use of signs.

2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes Haenyo Museum Jeju Island

2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes
Haenyo Museum Jeju Island

This island of scenic beauty, rich heritage and future opportunities, offered a remarkable setting for the November 2015 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes (ISCCL). A meeting at which the conversation centered around the aesthetics of landscapes, connecting the practice of nature and cultural conservation, and an initiative to advance the understanding and conservation of world rural landscapes . The setting for the gathering could not have been more appropriate–it was held overlooking the water at the Haenyo Museum, a facility dedicated to telling the story of the islands’ famous women divers. The mingling of historical, cultural, and natural resources and memories evoked a powerful sense of place and support for conserving more sites such as this.

international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life Jeju Stone Park

international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life
Jeju Stone Park

An international Symposium Re-thinking Lifescape: Linking Landscape to Everyday Life followed on the committee meeting and attracted over 200 participants. While many were from the Pacific Rim countries, there were also presenters from all over the globe. It was particularly encouraging to see so many excellent papers on cultural landscapes by graduate students and young professionals. The symposium was held at the famous Jeju Stone Park on the slopes of the island’s huge shield volcano, Mount Hallasan. Attendees were offered a number of tours of the key sites on the island including two of the world heritage sites: the Manjanggul Lava Tubes and Seongsan Peak. Both events were organized by the hard work of ICOMOS-Korea with special thanks to Professor Jongsang Sung the head of the Korean ISCCL, the many sponsors he attracted for the event, and of course, his hard working students.

Does this sound like an amazing opportunity to learn more about cultural landscapes? For those with an interest in placing cultural landscapes in an international context consider these upcoming events in 2016: The World Conservation Congress (WCC) meeting, and the conference Capability Brown: perception and response in a global context. The WCC will be meeting in Hawaii in early September 2016 where congress planners will consider a range of sessions that explore the connection between cultural and natural resources. In the same month, on the other side of the globe, ICOMOS UK will hold the capability conference in Bath. The conference celebrates the tercentenary of Capability Brown’s (Lancelot Brown) birth with an opportunity to reflect on his work in an international context.

If you are in the United States, or even if you are not, consider joining US ICOMOS. Support our international mission and stay informed about cultural landscape work at a global scope. This topic will be a focus of the organization’s new initiative for 2016 known as the Cultural Landscape Knowledge Exchange.

Finally, US ICOMOS is launching a National Committee on Cultural Landscapes. We plan to have gatherings at selected upcoming conferences to share information and build a community of practitioners. If you are interested in getting on the list, please email me at or our US ICOMOS ISCCL voting member Nora Mitchell at









Mitigation: Now thinking on a Landscape Scale

By Brenda Barrett October 20, 2015
Pennsylvania Landscape Credit: PA DCNR

Pennsylvania Landscape
Credit: PA DCNR

In the world of both nature conservation and historic preservation mitigation has become a hot concept. This is the idea – if a proposed project might have an adverse impact on natural or cultural resources then a series of options should be considered. The first and foremost is always to avoid impacts on a significant resource. The second, if not all impact can be avoided, is to work to minimize such impacts. Finally, if resources will be effected and these impacts cannot be avoided then they should be offset by some kind of ‘compensatory mitigation”. This sometimes can be accomplished by taking special measures at the site of the actual impact. However, increasingly mitigation is being structured in a more complex ways including off-site mitigation in another location or mitigation banks in-lieu of onsite mitigation. A growing trend is to fund regional remediation and/or land conservation using these mitigation strategies.

While on site and even off site mitigation is not new, today it is the scale of the projects being considered that is different.  A vast web of energy projects – pipelines, transmission corridors, wind farms and solar arrays – is being planned to criss-cross the country. For conservation and preservation interests there is general agreement that mitigation for these projects needs to be addressed at the landscape level. However, this brings a host of new challenges.

A recent gathering of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership highlighted some of them.

  • Do we even know what is important? Documenting what resources will be impacted is essential. Big data mapping such as Landscope Chesapeake  has been making rapid progress, but it also has shown some glaring holes in our information gathering. Without good information, it is hard to make a case for protection or mitigation and it is difficult to set priorities.
  • What about cultural landscapes? All the partners agreed that although many historic landmarks and districts have been identified, remarkably little is known about rural and cultural landscapes. These resources are also intertwined with the concept of scenery, which is not even addressed in most land planning and mapping programs. Finally, in a densely and long populated region like the Chesapeake Watershed, there are real questions of who gets to decide what is cultural significant.
  • How can we assign a value for mitigation purposes? New methodologies will need to be developed to assess both monetary or comparable resource values of impacted areas. For example can the impact a natural resource like a wetland in one place be mitigated by the protection of another property with similar characteristics? This concept is still being tested for nature conservation and has hardly ever been applied to historic, cultural or scenic resources.
  • How could such a program be administered on a landscape basis? Trying to answer this question is one of the goals of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership  A regional coalition of over 50 diverse organizations engaged in land conservation and related initiatives in the Chesapeake watershed. The partnership has the right players at the table federal and state agencies, local governments, Native American Tribes, and non-profit organizations to start tackling issues of documentation, setting priorities, and ensuring cultural resources get a fair shake. In addition the partnership can speak from a common perspective on what resources need to be conserved and how to expand the financial wherewithal to do so.

This work is still in its early days although the partnership recognizes that they are playing catch up with so many infrastructure projects on the drawing board. But one thing is clear, without a landscape scale perspective, it could not even be imagined.

Many thanks to Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council, Jonathan Doherty, Assistant Superintendent at NPS Chesapeake Bay, Kate Baker, Chesapeake Conservation Partnership Coordinator, Russ Baxter, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, Nikki Rovner, Virginia Associate State Director at The Nature Conservancy, and Joel Dunn, President & CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, their hard work  provided much of the backbone of this article.


The National Park Service Brand: Do I have a Franchising Opportunity for You!

By Brenda Barrett September 28, 2015


Courtesy of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Courtesy of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Over the last year the George Wright Journal has been running a series of Centennial Essays reflecting varying perspectives on the future of the National Park Service. The most recent piece by Holly Fretwell, a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Montana, offers a different viewpoint on how to address the agency’s difficult financial situation and the public’s desire for more national parks (George Wright Forum Vol. 32 No. 2 2015). Her proposal in a nutshell – what if the NPS were to franchise the NPS brand and offer it to entrepreneurs to run new park sites that were deemed to be of national significance? Then these new units could remain under local governance, but would be given “national park” stature.

As the centennial approaches all things should be on the table. The NPS has proposed a package of anniversary legislative initiatives with a focus on creating a range of new funding streams. The call to action by conservative conservationists, who represent the views of many members of Congress, is quite different. It is their position that the NPS needs to take care what it has and concentrate the nation’s limited dollars on the ‘crown jewels’.

Yet how to deal with both the public’s and politician’s desire for new parks? Her suggestion is to re-imagine the NPS brand as a franchising opportunity. This is not new idea. The Smithsonian has been doing this for years with their Affiliates programAnd going all the way, the once nonprofit National Geographic Society just sold their magazine, books, maps and other media to a consortium headed by 21st Century Fox the Rupert Murdoch controlled company that owns the Fox television network and the Fox news, for $725 million.

Needless to say it is unlikely that the many voices who are committed to ‘America’s Best Idea’ will embrace this approach. The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and National Parks Traveler have both come out with a spirited defense for an expansionist approach. See for example the editorial The National Park System: Why it should continue to Grow.

Fretwell argues that given the current fiscal climate, Congress is understandably reluctant to allocate the dollars needed to manage existing new park units, let alone funding new additions. And at the same time it is politically popular to keep naming new areas and cut those celebratory ribbons. So to bridge the gap she endorses expanding such existing programs like the Fee Demonstration Project and raising user fees all around. However, her big idea is that the American public needs a new model to manage new national parks in the future – let those constituents who seek national park status create and maintain them. This new model would operate more like a charter school or a franchise. The NPS as franchisor would license the use of the brand and provide general support. The agency would set the parameters for management and approve a business plan. This approach would ensure that new parks would have strong grassroots support. The new areas would be locally governed, enjoy the benefit of a partnership with park professionals and enjoy the  leverage of the NPS brand. Voilà a NPS experience at substantially reduced cost to the taxpayer!

As I read the elements of Fretwell’s franchise model, I was assailed by a sense of creeping familiarity – An approach that offers a way to get under the NPS umbrella, but is not managed by the NPS, one that is launched by strong local support and commitment, and that must follow NPS standards and requires a business plan, but recognizes that one size does not fit all. Wait a minute; don’t we already have something similar in the NPS portfolio? We do, there are 49 of them, and they are called National Heritage Areas.

The irony is that institutionalizing the National Heritage Area idea is stalled in a stand off between the administration (actually multiple administrations going back to 2001) and the very congressional committees who are calling for a more market based approach. Although NHAs incorporate most of the efficiencies touted in Fretwell’s article and have a thirty-year track record, the  NHA program legislation has been held up with claims of a federal overreach and as a federal land grab when nothing could be farther from the truth!

So I ask those like PERC who are proposing that the NPS rethink how they leverage the national park brand to follow their own dictums. Let’s not create something new and shiny. Instead why not polish up the National Heritage Areas model and make it work even better for the next one hundred years.


Reading: The Science of Open Spaces

By Brenda Barrett August 29, 2015

9781597269926 3
My late summer reading list included Charles Curtin’s book The Science of Open Spaces: Theory and Practice for Conserving Large Complex Systems (Island Press 2015). In so many ways this is the book I have been waiting for. As the title promises it tackles working on a landscape scale from the ground up with examples from the US borderlands in New Mexico, to the seacoasts of Maine and then on to Ambesoli National Park in Africa. But Curtin is not just a keen raconteur, he also takes a deep scholarly dive into the theories that underpin this work – chaos, complexity and resilience to name just a few.

Do not be deterred by the term “open spaces”. As he use the phrase to sweeping effect defining its use “to invoke not only the challenge of physical size but also of time, ecology, culture and all elements therein.”

Using his broad ranging experiences, he tries to identify the recurrent patterns in landscape scale project across these different geographies seeking out common strategies and ways to sustain them. He calls out the need to go beyond conventional research in ecology and conservation and understand the social dynamism in which these ecosystem exists.

It would be impossible to summarize the range of theoretical mountains that the book traverses as it pursues a foundational basis for the field of landscape scale conservation. So I have just selected a few paths that resonated for me from my observations in the field of large landscapes such as National Heritage Areas and Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscapes. These include:

  • The importance of local knowledge as the key to how people relate to their environment. And the crucial role place based actions play in conserving and maintaining large landscapes.
  • The multiple challenges of sustaining support particularly funding support for this work over the long haul.The importance of a third party convener or as he calls it a “backbone organization” in providing unity and focus. Someone who can take both a local and high-level viewpoint, after all he notes “…there are limit to what one neighbor can tell another.
  • The needs for diversity of perspectives to tackle the complexity of landscape conservation to provide a wide range of potential solutions and build a resilient system. What he calls distributed cognition is build on the time-consuming process of collaboration and as he states “…there are not short cuts.”
  • The importance of adaptation and feedback loops to success and the need to look at both ecological and social factors.
  • And most importantly the role of power. Curtin make it clear “In building sustainability and effectively conserving open spaces addressing power relationships in not an issue- it is the issue”

Well I could go on and on, and I have not even tried to summarize the book’s theoretical underpinnings. Just buy the book. Every reader will appreciate the well-presented case studies and for those who have worked in the trenches struggling with landscape scale conservation efforts, I guarantee there will be many aha moments.







Historic Preservation @Fifty Years: What is Going On?

By Brenda Barrett July 29, 2015
Preservation50 - 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

Preservation50 – 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

Anniversaries are big news. Last year was the 30th anniversary of the National Heritage Areas. This year in 2015 US ICOMOS reached the magical five decades. The Land and Water Conservation Fund will turn 40 in 2016. The much talked about Centennial of the National Park Service is also just over the horizon.

But it is the fiftieth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that has caught my attention and that of the historic preservation world. Passing the fifty year mark has special significance in a field that sets that number as the marker for determining a resource’s historicity. “Generally, properties eligible for listing in the National Register are at least 50 years old. Properties less than 50 years of age must be exceptionally important to be considered eligible for listing.

The rich irony of the National Historic Preservation program turning fifty and itself becoming historic has not been lost on many observers. So as the count down begins – with events that strike both a celebratory and a more reflective tone. A web site Preservation 50 has been launched as gathering point for information with well-designed posters and other merchandise. Trust the National Trust for Historic Preservation to find a position at the more festive end of the spectrum. The venerable Annual conference titled Past Forward (November 3-6 2015 in Washington DC) is “to begin a year-long celebration of the National Historic Preservation Act’s 50th anniversary with programming that celebrates and honors the past while looking decisively forward toward our next 50 years.”

Preservation 50 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

Preservation 50 1966-2016. Credit: Preservation@50

The National Association of Preservation Commissions has adopted a slogan for their conference with the forced gaiety that usually marks an “over-the-hill” themed birthday party – Hip, Happening Historic Preservation @ 50. However, on a more serious note the organization is also calling for papers on future facing topics: Preservation@50, advocacy, diverse and underrepresented resources, and climate change

Goucher’s Historic Preservation Program is striking a more thoughtful tone with a national forum “A Critical Examination of the next Fifty Years”. The forum will examine predicted changes in America’s population, economy, natural environment, everyday technology, and education at all levels over the next 50 years will affect the theories, policies, and professional practice of historic preservation in the United States at all levels of government and within the private and non-profit sectors. Finally, taking the long view the The Public Historian and History@work teamed up in 2013 to inaugurate a set of conversations over the next three years “to assess the history, impact, and legacy of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.” – See the results here.

I for one am looking forward to these discussions. As in many fields that started as a movement, there gets to be a point where it is time to grow up. Historic Preservation is not alone in this problem; many of my colleagues in the environmental movement are facing the same challenge.

Some of the best ideas I have heard came from a recent talk by Randy Mason, Chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He urged practioners to redesign historic preservation. Perhaps even reframing our work not as preservation, but as conservation, design and planning. As a field we should be less dependent on prescriptive polices and not settle for small victories, but take more flexible and expansive approach.

This is music to ears of someone who has been urging a landscape scale vision for historic preservation, conservation and the future of sustainable communities. I look forward to more!


Why is Funding Large Landscape Work so Darn Hard?

By Brenda Barrett July 1, 2015
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is part of the Bureau of Land Management's National Conservation Lands. Photo BLM.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is part of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands. Photo BLM.

The verdict is in. The major land and water conservation challenges facing the nation require action on a scale that is large and multi-jurisdictional. * The benefits of landscape connectivity are resilient habitats, essential ecosystem services and stronger cultural connections. Such large-scale efforts are the only way to address what have been called wicked problems such as the impact of climate change on species conservation and cultural and natural resources. A strong network of partners is needed to tackle these regional issues and offer efficiencies of scale.

The idea is being put into action. A recent National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation in October of 2014 was a sell out success with over 600 attendees and keynote presenters lining up to speak from every major land managing agency. (Read conference highlights in Expanding Horizons). Federal agencies are rolling out new landscape preservation and mitigation strategies. Nonprofit are seeking candidates for a newly created job category “director of landscape scale management”. Creating new National Heritage Areas is still popular idea with 8 legislative proposals to create new areas introduced in the recent congressional session. Most compelling are the hundred and hundreds of initiatives across the country identified by the Practitioners Network for Large Landscapes.

And yet all of these efforts face the same uphill battle, it is a struggle to gain and sustain funding for large landscape work. Federal programs such as the well regarded Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Landscapes that includes 21 national monuments and 16 National Conservation Areas, more than 220 congressionally designated wilderness areas, 2,400 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and nearly 6,000 miles of National Scenic and Historic Trails face Congressional budget cutting or even abolition. Funding for National Heritage Areas has been slashed in half for what seems like the umpteenth year and appropriations for most state heritage area are in the same boat. The new Practitioners network is turning over every leaf seeking dollars to ramp up their work and established landscape conservation networks report ongoing financial challenges. Foundations and donors like start ups and then ask that the work they started become self-sustaining.

Yes, funding is scarce. Federal government dollars for all discretionary programs are shrinking, and states have their own fiscal problem. Funding for charitable causes has diminished in the recent recession. But large landscape initiatives seem to have have been hit particularly hard. Why is this, is it just the availability of dollars? Here are some other possible reasons:

1) The value added by networks is harder to see and claim the credit: Politicians like to dig into shovel ready projects, organizational leaders and agency heads do not feel ownership for landscape scale projects where they are not large and in charge. There is a tendency to back away from the hard work of maintaining partnerships if it is a shared responsibility.

2) In hard times it is back to basics: “We are not talking about Yellowstone, we can’t afford to pay for people to just go to meetings” as I was once told by a not very friendly OMB examiner intent on stripping the National Park Service of what he viewed as superfluous partnership programs. Congress has argued that money for landscape programs would be better invested in repairing infrastructure or staffing individual sites.

3) Landscape scale work has a conservation agenda: The stated reason may be “back to basics”, but the underlying concern can be that these efforts will limit resource extraction, impose historic preservation controls and generally limit somebody’s access to resources.

4) And then there is climate change…

These ideas are interrelated and not easy to disentangle. However, for the growing number of parties who care about the future of landscape thinking and working, we need to start solving this knotty problem.

* McKinney, Matthew, Lynn Scarlett, and Daniel Kemmis. 2010. Large Landscape Conservation: A Strategic Framework for Policy and Action. Cambridge. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.


Biosphere Reserves: A Second Chance for the United States?

By Brenda Barrett May 25, 2015
credit: John Bunnel Pinelands Commission

Tibbs Pond, Pineland National Reserve. The Pinelands are one of the United States’ Biosphere Reserves. Credit: John Bunnel Pinelands Commission

Recently their has been a concerted effort to get the United States (US) re-engaged in the Biosphere Reserves program. As many of you may know, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves is part of the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program and is one of the most important protected area networks globally. Biosphere reserves are areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.

Biosphere reserves serve as special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity.
However, for many years now the biosphere reserve program in the US has been dormant. An initiative to revive the program has been lead primarily by a core group of George Wright Society members who last year they formed a GWS Chapter, called Biosphere Associates, to help advance the cause. Things are approaching a turning point, and this is an exciting time to be involved in this issue.

If you are interested in being part of the effort, or even if you just want to keep up with what’s going on, you are invited to join the Biosphere Associates Chapter. There’s no charge or extra dues to pay. The chapter’s point of contact is Dr. Jennifer Thomsen. She has put together a short newsletter about what happened at GWS2015 that will help you get up to speed.

To join the Biosphere Associates Chapter of GWS, or for more information, contact Jennifer Thomsen (jthomsen at


Blackstone River Valley: Policy Without Money is just Talk

By Brenda Barrett April 27, 2015
Credit: National Park Service

Map of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Credit: National Park Service

The Blackstone River Valley has always been a hotbed of innovation from its earliest industrialization to experimentation in protected area management with the creation of the national heritage corridor in 1986. Recently, the conservation possibilities of the region have been re-imagined yet again. In 2014, Congress authorized the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park with a dual purpose to preserve, protect and interpret the industrial heritage as well as its urban, rural and agricultural landscape that provides the overarching context for the region.

Along with individual industrial sites, the park boundaries include the Blackstone Canal and the Blackstone River and its tributaries. The legislation also recognizes the role of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor (BRVNHC), which was re-authorized to the year 2021. And to top it off the park legislation permits the National Park Service (NPS) to work outside of the park’s boundaries and enter into agreements with the BRVNHC. This offers an unprecedented opportunity for the NPS to conserve the Blackstone Valley on the landscape level – a living laboratory for NPS’s signature Scaling Up Initiative.
There is also a pressing need for the new park unit and the corridor to work closely together. The proposed 2016 NPS budget, known as the Greenbook, moved $650,00 in funding for the BRVNHC out of the National Heritage Area category and reassigned it to the agency’s operations budget for the new Blackstone River Valley NHP. So is this bad news for the corridor? Not according to Charlene Cutler, corridor’s Executive Director “In broad-brush, the plan for 2016 is for the heritage corridor to develop a cooperative funding agreement with the new park. The corridor will work within the larger landscape on projects that are outside the scope of the national historical park such as community planning, economic development, tourism and education/interpretation about the environment and watershed, as well as historic preservation. This work will be mutually beneficial to the region and to the new national park.”

This is smart thinking, as a former NPS director George Hartzog said “Policy without money is just talk.” At the same time, there are some real concerns that this action diverts scarce dollars from the National Heritage Areas (NHA) program. The 2016 Greenbook already proposes to cut the NHA funding in half from the 2015 appropriation and the $650,000 for the Blackstone Valley would be deducted from that limited pot. It also brushes aside the NHA funding formula that has been painstakingly negotiated over the past several years. Finally, what if park units continue to dip into the NHA funding? Seems a bit unfair considering the NPS overall budget is approaching three billion and the proposal for the NHAs in 2016 is under $10 million.

Credit: NPS

A former textile mill along the Blackstone River in the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Credit: NPS

On the other hand, some veteran national park observers think that this allocation could be an exciting opportunity to jump-start the planning process for the new park. Unlike many newly created parks that languish for years with no capacity and no money, this park in the Blackstone Valley would have a huge advantage. It would have some dollars and just as important a built-in partnership with BRVNHC, an organization with thirty years of successful community engagement and service delivery. What a great opportunity to take advantage of the wholeness of the valley. Charlene Cutler, for one, is optimistic that this is a win-win for the NHAs along with the parks. “Perhaps national heritage area funding would become less volatile if it was coordinated through park operating budgets in a true heritage area/park partnership.”

In an article last year, Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Next Step up for Heritage Areas?, the Living Landscape Observer posed a number of questions for the park and the heritage corridor. Looking back these queries are more critical than ever.

  • Will the new national park fashion a management strategy that takes advantage of these sweeping authorities?
  • Will the heritage corridor be made a full partner in preserving and interpreting the larger landscape?
  • Can the permanent presence and sustainable funding of a park unit serve as home base to continue the innovative holistic approach to the Blackstone Valley?

Stay tuned: Only time and hard work will tell if this might be the new model that will put the Blackstone Valley back on the map as one of the most innovative models for landscape conservation in the country.


In the Face of Destruction: World Heritage Matters

By Brenda Barrett March 29, 2015
Credit: Share America

Image from Nimrud, Iraq. Nimrud was listed on the World Heritage Tentative list in 2000. Credit: Share America

From around the globe there has been shock and censure at the destruction of World Heritage sites by ISIS in Iraq and Syria and from the attacks on museums and cultural sites. In strong words, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova characterized these acts as a war crime and a cultural cleansing of humanity’s ancient heritage. The towers of early Arab Kingdoms, Hellenic and Roman remains, monuments from the Assyrian Empire in 13th century BC and a great museum collection have all been targets of these devastating attacks.

The World Heritage Convention is the most universal of international legal instruments based on the idea of shared values and understanding of the common heritage of humankind. As in the dynamiting of the great Buddhas of Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan in 2001, the targeting of heritage sites by ISIS is a rejection of the rich overlapping heritage of the region and of the world. This is a new kind of destruction not incidental to armed conflict, but the destruction of a nation’s heritage as part of the  arsenal of war deployed against our common humanity.

So what can be done? Organizations such as US ICOMOS and the US Committee of the Blue Shield have taken strong position and offered aid. Representative Elliot Engel (NY) has reintroduced HR 1493, a bill to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, and natural or other disasters. Other proposals are to step-up monitoring of the trade in illicit artifacts, which has dramatically increased in the impacted region. It is reported that ISIS is funding operations by the trade in antiquities. International aid is also needed to help support the efforts of archeologists and curators, the monument men and women of the 21st century, currently working in the region.

But one concrete action the heritage community can take right now is to push the United States to resume funding UNESCO. And if that step is just too far for our current Congress, then push to fund the work of the World Heritage Center.

Credit: wikipedia

Hatra World Heritage Site in Iraq inscribed 1985

As Andrew Potts, Executive Director of US/ICOMOS put it, “the sincerity of American rhetoric can no longer be squared with the very real (if inadvertent) sabotage current United States policies are doing to the global response to this massive use of heritage as a tactic of war. Even while deploring these attacks, many Americans are unaware that the United States is currently withholding funding for the World Heritage Center and UNESCO, the very units within the international community designed to help these sites — with devastating impacts on the capacity of both agencies. After three years in which funding for cultural heritage has been held up as a pawn in another geopolitical stalemate, it is critical that Congress immediately restore this funding before a single additional World Heritage site is lost.”

Now more than ever, we need to stand with the international community that supports the universal values of cultural heritage and understanding. We need to show our solidarity with the rest of the signatories to the World Heritage Convention. Read here for the background on why the United States has stopped funding to UNESCO and its World Heritage programs.

Some of the World Heritage sites at risk or lost forever from conflicts in the region:

World Heritage (1986)

World Heritage Tentative List (1999)

World Heritage (1985)

World Heritage Tentative List (2000)


Large Landscape Conservation Conference: Read all about it!

By Brenda Barrett February 25, 2015
Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Landscape in the Yukon to Yellowstone, an initiative which was honored at the NWLLC. Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Just out is Expanding Horizons,  a report on the highlights of the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation (October 23-24, 2014). Not to be missed is the report’s inspiring foreword by Tony Hiss, a New Yorker staff writer for more than 30 years and now a visiting scholar at New York University.

The scale and depth of the conference, a sell out crowd of over 650 participants with hundreds of presentations, cannot be captured in a report of only 40 pages. However, Expanding Horizons offers an overview of some of the most compelling topics in large landscape conservation. Strategies to tackle the need for ecosystem services, the preservation of cultural heritage and intercultural connections, ways to engage metropolitan regions and of course the overarching issue of climate change. Other hard topics were also addressed like how to sustain the work, evaluate and measure results and reach out to the next generation. Conference Keynote Speakers included a high wattage cast: Secretary of Agriculture Michael Vilsack, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Mike Boots of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. There is definitely some political and organizational heft behind these big ideas.

Finally, one of the best things about being an online report is that the report is loaded up with links to other sources of information. PowerPoint’s, short video interviews, and links to related web sites are all just a click away. So open Expanding Horizons and begin your own voyage of discovery.

Go Beyond the Covers of the Report

Want to become more conversant in the field of large landscapes and connect to others of the same ilk? Two great sources are highlighted below:

The Practitioners’ Network for Large Landscape Conservation is an alliance of professionals and citizens united in building the capacity and sharing information in the emerging movement. Share your story and stay in touch by registering here.

Sign up for the latest information from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, including free courses and a subscription to the to the quarterly magazine Land Lines. The institute’s mission is to be a leading center for the study of land policy and land-related tax policy throughout the world. It offers publications, web based programing and other educational programs. Check out the latest issue of their magazine, which republishes Tony Hiss’s great piece with gorgeous images.


Preservation Advocacy Scholars Join the Action

By Brenda Barrett February 25, 2015

Each year in March Preservation Action and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Offices (NCSHPO) sponsor Historic Preservation Advocacy Week. The event brings over 250 preservationists to Washington, DC to promote sound federal preservation policy and programs. But as in many professions bringing in new ideas and engaging the next generation is a challenge.

The Preservation Advocacy Scholars  program was created to help bridge this gap. The selection of scholars is a competitive process and is based the student’s response to issues facing the field today. In 2015 the topics were the future of the National Heritage Area program and how to engage the next generation in preservation advocacy. With support from the Preservation Action Foundation and this year from members of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and the Living Landscape Observer, four Scholars will attend the March 2-5 Preservation Advocacy Week in Washington DC.

The Scholars have a busy week as the invited guests of Preservation Action Foundation at the Historic Preservation Congressional reception and a Congressional breakfast. Scholars will have the opportunity to meet with Members of Congress from their district and put some of their research into action. And of course the Scholars are encouraged to continue advocacy and engagement in historic preservation policy issues at the local and state level. So if you are coming to Washington for the 2015 Preservation Advocacy Week be on the look out for these Scholars and welcome them and their new ideas!

Meet the scholars:

Credit: Preservation Action

Amber Bailey, Preservation Advocacy Scholar. Credit: Preservation Action


Amber Bailey, Loyola University Chicago, for her paper 
“National Heritage Areas@ 30.“
Amber Bailey is a public historian committed to using the past to educate and engage her community and adopted hometown of Chicago. Her interest in historic preservation is rooted in her desire to be a steward and advocate for marginalized communities and historic places within them. To this end, she is especially interested in how historic preservation can be used as a tool to revitalize economically depressed areas. Amber received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Chicago in 2013. In 2014, she began the public history master’s program at Loyola University Chicago.


Credit: Preservation Action

Kevin Burkman Preservation Advocacy Scholar. Credit: Preservation Action

Kevin Burkman, Rutgers University,
 for his paper “The American Civil War and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area: A Stand for Historic Land Preservation.“ Kevin Burkman is currently in his last semester of graduate studies at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, where he has been pursuing a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning, with an emphasis on environmental and physical planning. His academic focus has included independent study projects on the land use and preservation of the battlefield at Gettysburg. It also includes land use and resource issues of the American West, and coastal resiliency and climate change issues, post Super Storm Sandy. Much of his academic research includes geospatital analysis, which he has done professionally for nearly ten years and includes digital mapping and data analysis for wireless communications, state government and local municipalities, and land preservation and outdoor recreation organizations.

Credit: Preservation Action

Katie Rispoli, Preservation Action Scholar. Credit: Preservation Action


Katie Rispoli, University of Southern California, for her paper, “Remaining Relevant: Prior Pitfalls and Future Actions to Emphasize Sustainability and Culture in Preservation.“ Katie Rispoli is a graduate student in the Master of Heritage Conservation program in the University of Southern California School of Architecture, and will graduate in May of 2015. She is passionate about environmental health, cultural heritage, and youth education through preservation. Katie works in Preservation in South Los Angeles County as the Director of We Are the Next, a nonprofit organization. When not working or in school, Katie enjoys splitting her time between exploring both the city and the great outdoors.

Credit Preservation Action

Jennifer Robinson, Preservation Advocacy Scholar. Credit: Preservation Action

Jennifer Robinson, University of Pennsylvania
, for her paper “The Next Generation.” Jennifer Robinson is a second-year master’s-degree student in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. Her research interests include adaptive reuse of historic structures, particularly for affordable housing, and the relationship between preservation and social equity. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology in 2013. During the summer of 2014 she interned at the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. She’s actively involved with the preservation of the Conkling-Armstrong house in North Philadelphia.



World Heritage Sites in the United States

By Brenda Barrett January 29, 2015
Credit: National Park Service

Papahanaumokuakea World Heritage Site. Credit: NPS

Quickly now, how many World Heritage Sites are in the United States? Well, there are twenty-two most administered by the National Park Service (NPS). The others are managed by various other interests – states, private foundations, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and an Indian tribe. The United States and Canada jointly nominated two World Heritage Sites: Waterton-Glacier and Wrangell-St.Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek/Kluane. The most recent World Heritage inscription was for Poverty Point in Louisiana, which was voted on in the fall of 2014 in Doha Qatar. For more information on all the U.S. World Heritage Sites visit the National Park Service’s web site.

Why is recognition as a World Heritage site important? The motivations vary from country to country, but include such factors as national pride and of course the economic value of increased attention and tourism. In the past, the U.S. involvement the program has not been touted. A site’s World Heritage status was only recognized in the fine print in a brochure or by a small plaque. However, this is changing. Along with the updated web site on World Heritage, the NPS has recently developed a new travel itinerary for the World Heritage Sites in the United States. The itinerary provides a description of the heritage values of each of the properties and offers information on how to plan your visit. And for younger visitors, they can become a ” World Heritage in the United State  Junior Ranger.

Credit: Susan Guice

The Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point. Photo by Susan Guice, courtesy NPS Office of International Affairs

Today there is growing interest in achieving World Heritage designation for more places in the United States. And we can certainly ask for more, after all, Mexico has 32 sites and even Cuba has 9! So how do properties advance through the process and what sites will be next? Well one way to see what might be coming up is to look at the tentative list, see World Heritage in the United States: The U.S. Tentative List 2008. This report presents the tentative list as of that date and describes the criteria and process for inscription of potential new sites. As for the future, the NPS has announced that it is in the process of developing the next tentative list with a target date of 2016. This is a great opportunity for the public to be engaged in identifying what they think is worthy of World Heritage designation and to build greater knowledge of the program.

And awareness of World Heritage is very important as the program is at a critical juncture in the United States, but that is another story. Read more about this in US World Heritage Program at Risk.  In the meantime many thanks to the NPS for running a great promotional campaign and special Junior Ranger badges to all who support this effort!