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While we were not watching…

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

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

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

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the pandemic, the long-standing authority of park superintendents to decide when to open and close facilities had been rescinded.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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Outsized Threats to Large Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett January 27, 2019

Boundaries of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.  Credit Department of Interior

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

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

National Marine Sanctuaires
Courtesey NOAA

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

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

Greater Sage Grouse
Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

So, what can we do?

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

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Interpreting histories of pollution

By Eleanor Mahoney October 4, 2018

Street signage in Butte, Montana.

Street signage in Butte, Montana.

During a two-week cross country drive this summer, I convinced my husband to stop in Butte, Montana. At first, he protested, arguing that it made more sense to spend the night in either Bozeman or Missoula, both lively college towns.

Eventually, after some cajoling on my part, he finally agreed, though I admit that it might well have been the lower motel prices along that stretch of Interstate 90, rather than my own entreaties, which focused on Butte’s compelling past and present, that ultimately persuaded him to reserve a room at the local Super 8.

As a student of labor and environmental history, Butte had long been on my list of places to visit. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Butte and the surrounding region became synonymous with both copper production and union organizing. At its peak in the years before World War I, this part of Montana provided almost a third of the world’s copper – a material that was essential to the burgeoning telecommunications industry. Butte became a boom town, with many sources identifying it as the largest city between Minneapolis and Seattle in the early 1900s. Companies operating in and around the city, which included huge corporations as well as smaller, locally-owned businesses, employed tens of thousands of men and women in occupations that were both dirty and incredibly dangerous. (1) In an effort to improve conditions and ensure that the incredible profits of mining accrued to both labor and management, Butte’s workers organized. By the early 1900s, over 18,000 could claim membership in one of more than two-dozen unions active in the area. Significantly, however, not all workers were welcomed by organized labor. Chinese-owned businesses were systematically boycotted by unions and Chinese workers discriminated against.

The history briefly outlined above would be enough to justify Butte’s inclusion as one of the country’s most significant industrial regions. But, the story doesn’t end there. Copper continued to be incredibly profitable after World War II, with prices reaching new heights during the 1950s. The companies operating in the city and neighboring communities thus had a compelling motivation to continue mining, though they faced a challenge in that the most easily accessible deposits had long since been tapped out. In response, a new method of extraction became the preferred means to access the remaining copper ore – open pit mining.

Before the 1950s, vein mining predominated in Butte. This technique depended on human labor. Workers using picks, shovels, and dynamite dug deep underground shafts, with stations and drifts extending to the ore beds. The shafts were connected to huge iron head frames, which lifted out the ore. Over a dozen of the head frames are still visible in the city.

In contrast to vein mining, open pit mining is a surface-focused technique. It employs gigantic earth-moving machines that remove layers of soil (and trees etc.) on the surface to get to the mineral deposits underneath. A far smaller number of workers are employed using this method.

In 1955, using the open pit approach, the Anaconda Copper Company initiated excavation of the Berkeley Pit. Over the course of the next three decades, hundreds of millions of tons of ore and waste rock would be dug out of the pit, leading the “hole” to grow exponentially. It eventually measured 1.5 miles wide and 1,700 feet deep. In order to allow for the site’s expansion, nearby neighborhoods, home to some of Butte’s working-class ethnic communities, were abandoned with the Anaconda Company buying out residents and business owners.

View of Berkeley Pit, 2018

In April 1982, the pit, now owned by the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), officially closed. But, of course, the story is not that simple. After active mining ceased and the pumps that had been keeping liquid out stopped running, the pit began to fill up. The groundwater flowing in was not only incredibly acidic, but also contained high concentrations of metals, including copper, cadmium, iron, and cobalt, as well as arsenic. Designated a superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1983, the Berkeley Pit is now the largest body of toxic water in the United States.

The more recent history of Butte is – I would argue – just as significant as the earlier “boom town” period. While a fair number of historic sites (though probably not enough) examine stories of resource extraction in the 1880 – 1920 period, few examine post World War 2 industrial history, especially in the context of pollution and toxicity. We need to understand and debate the costs and benefits of extraction and production in the past in order to make better decisions in the future.

Vistors walking to the Berkeley Pit.

Walking to the Berkeley Pit, which is visit-able.

These stories, which are present in communities across the United States, are by no means cut and dry. The tensions between jobs, ecological well-being, human health and wellness, and corporate influence on politics are difficult and often painful to tell. Yet, they need to be explored.

I believe we need a National Park unit that addresses this issue, environmental pollution and remediation, head-on as one of its primary themes, perhaps developed cooperatively with the EPA. The NPS would not have to “own” the land and be responsible for clean-up – indeed, that would be prohibitive. This would be a partnership site, like many other new units. Butte, home to the largest (in terms of number of buildings) National Historical Landmark District in the country is one possible location (it is also important to recognize all the important work already underway in Butte in regard to interpreting its past and also tracking the current state of the environment), but there are many others. (2) The Gulf Coast, the Appalachian coalfields, the industrial farms of the California Central Valley, the many locations where natural gas extraction is proliferating, all come to mind.

It is time we interpreted this past – it is central to U.S. history. A site or sites that focused, at least in part, on the themes of pollution, remediation, and environmental recovery would do much to communicate the costs of industrial production as well as the resilience of communities and landscapes living with the long lasting effects of toxic waste.

For more information on the Berkeley Pit, visit the detailed website. www.pitwatch.org.

An excellent history of the region is Laurie Mercier’s book Anaconda: Labor, Community, and Culture in Montana’s Smelter City (2001).

1. Estimates put the number of miners who died during the underground mining period as 2,000 or more.
2. There have been efforts to designated Butte as a National Historical Park in the past. Indeed, the New York Times documented these efforts. Timothy Egan, “In it’s Own Decay, Butte Sees a National Treasure,” New York Times, August 30, 1997.

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Examining Federal Land Acquisition Practices After World War II

By Eleanor Mahoney March 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Politicians, Conservationists, And National Parks

By Guest Observer February 21, 2016

It’s rich political theater, watching the ongoing debate over a possible national park in Maine’s North Woods as well as the long-running efforts to resolve land-use practices on millions of federal acres in Utah. Boasts have been made, promises allegedly discarded, and no resolution in either state has been made.

Seemingly ignored have been residents of the two states, as the politicians opposing a new national park in Maine and those opposed to a new national monument in Utah are ignoring majorities who have voiced support for both. About the only thing that has been assured through the sound bites, letter writing, and draft legislation is that neither issue will be resolved soon.

Maine North Woods –Letter writing and bluster have been the latest developments in the years-long debate over whether Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby can hand over some 100,000 acres of her private property to the National Park Service for a North Woods park adjacent to Baxter State Park, one that would have spectacular views of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Last week Maine Gov. Paul LePage directed the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to reestablish a road through Ms. Quimby’s lands to state-owned lands within her tract. In issuing that order, the governor said the state-owned acreage were “threatened by efforts to create a National Park/National Monument in the Millinocket area.”

“Despite lack of local support and lack of support from members of Maine’s Congressional delegation, this proposal has now changed direction,” said Governor LePage in a release. “Through the use of high-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., the Quimby family has focused its efforts on lobbying the Obama Administration, seeking to have the President use sweeping authority granted to him under the Antiquities Act to unilaterally designate this area a National Monument.”

While the governor maintained there was lack of local support for a national park or monument, a survey last summer of the congressional district that would be most affected by creation of a Katahdin Woods and Waters National Park and National Recreation Area overwhelmingly voiced support for it. And according to the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel, a recent statewide survey found that 60 percent of Maine residents support the idea.

In response to the governor’s directive, Ms. Quimby said if the state wants to upgrade its right-of-way to reach the 2,500 acres, she won’t object. “The [right of way] to the public land cited by the governor has never been denied,” she said Saturday. “With little wood of commercial value to harvest, the [right of way] has not been maintained by the state. If the state wishes to upgrade its [right of way] to begin a harvesting operation, so be it. No argument from us.”

Meanwhile, three members of Maine’s congressional delegation were miffed with a response National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis wrote to address their concerns that the president might turn to the Antiquities Act to create a monument. In their letter to the president (attached) sent in November, the delegation urged him not to turn to his pen to establish a monument but rather to send “financial support for research to back the development and use of wood products and fibers, advanced engineering projects that use wood, and support for policies that will create strong markets for wood products.”

The three — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, Jr., and Rep Bruce Poliquin — went on to say that if the president was determined to designate a monument, he should direct in his proclamation that all currently allowed recreational uses in Maine be permitted in the monument, that “proper forest management, including timber harvesting,” be allowed, that all state or private lands adjacent to a monument continue to have easements and rights-of-way (e.g., roads), with “freedom from view shed, air quality, or buffer zone regulations or requirements.”

In short, the delegation doesn’t want any monument to come with limitations on how the land would be maintained or accessed.In responding to the politicians for the president, Director Jarvis pointed out the economic benefits of a national park.”Last year, the National Park Service recorded 305 million visitors to the (National Park) System, which generated over $16 billion into the economies of communities within 60 miles of parks,” he wrote in his letter (attached). “… The NPS experience has been that such influxes of new visitors result in the launching (of) new businesses to start, such as food and beverage, lodging, guides and outfitters, and camping and outdoor supply. Often local entertainment and other attractions appear in neighboring areas. Land values often increase as well.”

That said, the director added, there can be challenges and negative impacts associated with an NPS property.  “The DOI (Department of the Interior) looks forward to the opportunity to better understand these and other issues as you continue to solicit public input and lead this option dialogue about how best to protect important resources within your communities, while recognizing the economic needs in the region. We also appreciate you sharing your thoughts on what you believe would be critically important considerations ranging from public access to private property rights, for your communities if the Federal Government received a land donation for a park or similar use,” he wrote.

The politicians weren’t mollified, however, and took exception that Director Jarvis didn’t respond directly to their requirements concerning state and private property rights, access, logging, and recreational activities, as well as state management oversight for any monument.“These conditions are critical to ensuring that future economic activities in the Katahdin region are not stifled by burdensome regulations that upset the Maine tradition of multi-use working forests,” Sens. Collins and King wrote.

Utah Public Lands – When U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz last month released their long-awaited Public Lands Initiative for designating wilderness, releasing lands from wilderness consideration, expanding Arches National Park, and basically deciding how millions of federal acres in eastern Utah should be managed, they said there was a lot to like, and a lot not to like, in the draft legislation. Those who have found aspects not to like have been vocal lately.

In their response to Rep. Bishop, the Grand Canyon Trust pretty much rejected the draft in its entirety. Our opposition is rooted in the fact that the PLI does not represent a positive, solution-oriented step toward resolving land use and land tenure matters in eastern Utah. Chief among the harms contained in PLI are: management language not found elsewhere in law that undermines new wilderness and national conservation areas; special management areas and canyon country recreation zones that weaken existing protections; release and hard release of millions of acres of deserving potential wilderness; disposal of lands far in excess of standards set forth by the Public Purposes and Recreation Act; a wildly unbalanced and unfair SITLA state land exchange; creation of “energy zones” in excess of 2.5 million acres where multiple-use land management principles are cast aside and the reality of climate change is unacknowledged; excessive grants of RS 2477 road claims and a Book Cliffs Highway corridor to the State of Utah; hobbling of livestock management necessary to conserve ecosystems and species; inadequate provisions respecting sovereign Native American tribes with regard to protection and management of the Bears Ears cultural landscape; and the stated goal of the authors of PLI to place limitations on the President’s authority to use the Antiquities Act of 1906.

At the Natural Resources Defense Fund, Sharon Buccino, the group’s director for its Land and Wildlife Program, wrote the two Republicans that their vision “does not represent the values of the diverse stakeholders that have been engaged.”

Some of our greatest concerns with the PLI discussion draft include:

* Provisions that would undermine the integrity of the Wilderness Act, Clean Air Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act;

* Language that would undercut the management of proposed wilderness areas, national conservation areas, special management areas, and recreation zones;

* Unprecedented giveaways to the State of Utah, including the sanctioning of questionable R.S. 2477 claims and the establishment of 10,000 miles of unnecessary public roads;

* Designation of over 2.5 million acres of energy zones that will allow development to override other considerations;

* Insufficient protections for critical cultural resources, including provisions that would allow San Juan County to supersede sovereign tribal considerations;

* The hard release of over two million acres of public land, much of it wilderness quality land that should be permanently safeguarded.

The PLI discussion draft, as it now stands, is a missed opportunity to resolve longstanding issues that deserve a more deliberative approach—one that fully assimilates input from stakeholders who have been historically invested in how these critical public lands should be managed and safeguarded for generations to come.

As to what Utah residents want, a survey earlier this year by Colorado College found that 47 percent of the respondents oppose giving federal lands to the state, and that 65 percent “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” a “Bears Ears National Monument” that would protect some 1.9 million acres “in large part to protect cliff dwellings and sacred American Indian sites.”

Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz have opposed such a monument, and instead have called for a 1.2-million-acre Bears Ears National Conservation Area.Last week the entire Utah congressional delegation wrote President Obama urged him not to designate the Bears Ears National Monument. In their letter, the delegation stated that “(F)ederal land-use policy has a major impact on the lives of those residing within and near federal lands. We believe the wisest land-use decisions are made with community involvement and local support.”

If 65 percent support isn’t enough, how much is?

This article was written by Kurt Repanshek Editor and Founder of the National Park Traveler and was first published on February 15th, 2016 in the Traveler’s Newsletter.

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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 www.nationalacademies.org.

 

 

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Cultural Heritage, Environmental Impact Assessment, and People

By Guest Observer November 19, 2015

Regulatory Man Credit: Tom King

Regulatory Man
Credit: Tom King

Government development projects, or any large infrastructure projects, have the potential to damage the environment–which includes its cultural heritage aspect. While most nations have put in place a process to assess such impacts, when applied to the consideration of cultural resources the process often seems formulaic, does not address impacts to the broader cultural landscape, and ignores or discounts what communities value as their heritage and their living traditions.

Since such projects will continue to be proposed, may it be transportation upgrades or new energy delivery systems, and some will move forward, the question must be raised: is it possible for us to do a better job? Recently, I read Tom King’s provocative paper “Cultural Heritage, Environmental Impact Assessment, and People”. He identifies many of the barriers to effectively considering a project’s impact on a landscape scale. Even better, he proposes some solutions. Originally presented in 2011 at a World Archaeological Congress “intersession” in Beijing, the paper was published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

I strongly recommend reading the whole article. However, for those readers who want a quick overview, I asked Tom King to summarize his main points, which he has done in his own inimitable style:

  1. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an important tool that governments use – in theory – to control the damage that their decisions can do to the human environment.
  2. The cultural aspects of that environment — those aspects that communities value for their cultural significance – should be given careful attention in EIA, in consultation with the people and communities that value them.
  3. That doesn’t happen, because “cultural heritage” is defined narrowly, to mean just historic places, landmarks, and artifacts recognized by government based on their value to historians, architectural historians, and archaeologists.
  4. EIA typically doesn’t even consider things like impacts on culturally important plants and animals, traditional lifeways, and cultural practices. It gives short shrift to community values, relying instead on the official values of “cultural” agencies like – in the U.S. – the National Park Service and the State Historic Preservation Officers. Who understandably advise only within the scope of their legal authorities.
  5. This kind of EIA is easily manipulated by agency proponents in the name of expediency or by consultants to advance their clients’ interests at the expense of local cultural heritage.
  6. We should back away from reliance on “official” lists and “professional” evaluations, in favor of consulting local communities about how to manage cultural heritage as THEY define it. The Akwé: Kon Guidelines, issued under the Convention on Biological Diversity  provides a good model.

Thomas F. (Tom) King is the author, co-author, or editor of ten books on aspects of cultural heritage, and the co-author of National Register Bulletin 38 on the identification and documentation of traditional cultural places. He is a consultant based in Silver Spring, Maryland, and can be contacted at tomking106@gmail.com. 

 

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Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor: Keeping the Promise

By Mary Means September 24, 2012

South Carolina low country landscapeI’ve had a lifelong affinity for South Carolina’s Low Country (there are Means family buried in the Episcopal Church yard in Beaufort) and one of my earliest memories is of the golden marshes and moss-draped live oaks. For the last year, a volunteer assignment has taken me to St. Helena Island numerous times. There, we have guided the recently adopted strategic plan for Penn Center that will assure it continues to serve the Gullah Geechee communities. Begun in 1862 as Penn School, one of the first schools for Africans (they were still enslaved; this area of the state was occupied by the Union Army throughout the Civil War), this National Historic Landmark was struggling as it approached its 150th celebration. Though the transition may at times be difficult, Penn Center’s leaders are successfully moving to a much stronger and more sustainable condition, on course to a much brighter future.

Steeped as I have become in the this fascinating place, and having led the consultant teams for management plans for several National Heritage Areas, I’ve been looking forward to reading the recently released Management Plan for the Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor, for Penn Center is smack dab in the middle of it. Moreover, St Helena Island is one of the strongest concentrations of Gullah Geechee people. Here is one of the few remaining distinct peoples who can trace their beginnings to the west coast of Africa, mostly what is now Sierra Leone and Angola. Penn Center’s mission revolves around preserving and interpreting Gullah Geechee history and culture.

Sprawling coastal development continues to decimate many of their communities; physical evidence of their existence is fading fast all along the coast. Penn Center and St Helena Island are probably the most intact remaining cultural landscape in the Low Country. With the inevitable diaspora, language and cultural practices also disappear. The ability of people to hold on and stay here hinges as much as anything else on the ability to make a living. Bringing appropriate economic development is key; heritage tourism represents a promising albeit complex opportunity. So, time is of the essence if current and future generations are to be able to hold on to their traditional communities.

If ever there was a cultural landscape worthy of being a heritage corridor, it is this one – especially in the Low Country. Local and regional leaders fervently hoped national designation would bring badly needed public exposure, funding to preserve, interpret and market the corridor’s sites and communities, and greater clout when advocating for the preservation of fragile communities. In 2004, the Corridor made the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Eleven Most Endangered Sites list.

St. Helena Island, South CarolinaLegislation to create the GGNHC was first introduced in Congress in 2000, and it was finally designated in 2006, with the designation set to end in 2021. The process of creating the corridor management plan has been managed by the National Park Service in cooperation with the 21-member Commission established to oversee the corridor. The plan document is nearly 300 pages long and reflects a great deal of work and public involvement. I’m sure it fully meets NPS standards for planning, which seem to revolve around counting, studying and consulting – always mindful of not committing NPS to anything too specific, being voluminous in documentation and lofty goals, while micrometer thin when it comes to implementation. It has taken six years of the NHC’s fifteen-year shelf life to get to this point. Buried deeply in it is the acknowledgement that funding will have to come from elsewhere. Remember, NPS funding for national heritage areas is roughly $18 million dollars. Today, there are 49 designated heritage areas all scrambling for crumbs of the budget pie. Six years of planning fatigue and high hopes. Now what?

Partnerships. When there is no money, the solution always offered is partnerships. Throughout the GGNHC Management Plan it is a major theme: to work with existing sites and organizations, to bring financial resources and technical assistance, to make marketing efforts more effective. Yet nowhere in the plan is there a realistic assessment of who those key partners must be for this to succeed. There are hundreds of organizations and agencies – NPS even notes “too numerous to list” in the plan itself. Apparently the planning process did not involve actually identifying, much less brokering a couple of these key partnerships.

Brick Church Penn CenterIf the survival of the communities of the GGNHC must depend on partners, shouldn’t the planning process have focused less on NPS internal policies and more on what might motivate some of those key entities to invest in priority initiatives in the Corridor? Shouldn’t it help articulate the benefits that could come to a few key “others” for becoming an active partner in achieving the visibility and interpretive infrastructure the Corridor badly needs?

In addition to the economic climate of our times, there’s another hurdle for the GGNHC. During this same time-frame, Charleston struggled to explore the feasibility of a capital campaign to build an International African American Museum. Research for the campaign revealed the daunting task of raising millions in a state that has not even begun to process the legacy of slavery and its resultant climate of racism. The sad truth is that preservation of cultural landscapes that are predominantly those of the descendents of slaves is painful and does not touch the hearts and wallets of preservation’s traditional philanthropists.

Penn Center is one of those struggling Gullah Geechee sites. Its story is one of blacks and whites working together during the Civil War, through Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, into the Civil Rights movement and beyond. Its newly adopted direction builds from these roots. As a National Historic Landmark with a rich association with education, self-sufficiency, community building, civil rights and social justice, Penn Center can play an important role in bringing the Gullah Geechee NHC into being. Penn’s leaders believe there is mutual benefit to be had in becoming a strong partner to the Commission, to the best of its own ability. Discussions will soon begin about how best to achieve it.

The Corridor Management Plan is available here. Learn more about the Penn Center here.

Mary Means is nationally known for her leadership in heritage development and planning. Prior to forming her firm Mary Means + Associates, she was vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and led the team that created the National Main Street Center.

Photos:  Mary Means

 

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Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Expands

By Eleanor Mahoney May 22, 2012

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently designated four water trails as new historic connecting components of the existing Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.  Click through to watch a video of the signing ceremony. The new additions – the Susquehanna, Chester, Upper Nanticoke and Upper James Rivers – expand the public’s connections to the history, cultural heritage, and natural resources of the 3,000-mile-long national historic trail in the Chesapeake Bay. The new river connecting trails are found in Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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NPS Policy & Proposed Legislation: A Breakthrough for Heritage Areas?

By Brenda Barrett May 16, 2012

Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas

Things are definitely looking up for the US National Heritage Areas.  Bedeviled by years of uncontrolled growth and meager funding, this program has long been a candidate for the most neglected offspring on the National Park Service (NPS) family tree.  However, on March 14, 2012 NPS Director Jon Jarvis issued a policy memo that affirmed NPS support for the National Heritage Areas Program and encouraged NPS managers to help the areas succeed. Jarvis highlighted heritage areas as a critical element in the Agency’s broader effort to connect to the nation’s youth and diverse communities. He emphasized that heritage areas embody a regional approach to conservation, which is critical to understanding lived-in and working landscapes, waterways, battlefields and both the built and natural environment. These are welcome words and go a long way towards addressing the past lack of clarity about how the National Heritage Areas fit into the tight knit NPS culture that has traditionally been focused on parks and protected lands.

Another promising development is the introduction the long awaited National Heritage Areas Act (HR 4099) which would establish a legislative framework for the program within the NPS. The new bill has bipartisan sponsorship from Representative Charles Dent (R PA) and Tonko (D NY) and has already picked up 40 cosponsors from both parties.  Efforts are underway to find a champion to introduce the bill in the Senate.  The legislation contains many of the elements recommended in the 2006 National Park System Advisory Board report Charting a Future for  National Heritage Areas.

More problematic is the future of  twelve of the forty-nine National Heritage Areas whose funding authorization expires in FY 2012. Originally, it was thought that NPS funding for a 10 to 15 year time period would be adequate to launch each new heritage area.  Congress, recognizing the challenge of finding dollars for regional initiatives and the program’s growing popularity, has provided decades of funding extensions for many areas. However, tough budgets times finally have caught up with this strategy.   Although NPS evaluations of the program have shown that stable funding is critical to long-term success, today only five of the twelve areas have pending legislation to reauthorize their federal funding.

Funding has always been a sticking point for the program. While the NPS budget is over $2.4 billion , the heritage areas have struggled to survive on $17.4 million (FY 2012) divided 49 ways. Soon some of them may have even less. No wonder several older heritage areas are proposing more radical alternatives such as becoming units of the NPS. They are following the money and who can blame them?

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Federal Funding – How are we doing?

By Brenda Barrett April 1, 2012

When all was said and done, federal funding for landscape scale cultural and natural resource conservation programs fared relatively well in the recent 2012 budget showdown in Washington, D.C.

Historic Preservation funding for state and tribal historic preservation offices saw a slight increase to $47 million and $9 million respectively. Unfortunately, both Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America, two federal historic preservation grant programs, were left unfunded for a second year.

National Heritage Areas managed to almost double the administration’s request, which translated into essentially flat funding of $17.4 million for forty-nine areas across the country. The Land and Water Conservation Fund also received an increase from the 2011 budget with $186.7 million for the Federal side and $45 million for the State grants. However, these numbers did not even come close to the full funding of $900 million for the Land and Water Fund proposed by the Obama administration.

There was good news for some other large landscape initiatives as funding for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways program was restored at almost $2 million dollars and the Everglades received $142 million in restoration dollars.

But, like every year, we are now starting the process all over again with the 2013 budget. In general, the administration is proposing to hold programs at existing funding levels, which may be as good as it gets in this climate. One disappointment was the proposal to again cut 50% of the funds for National Heritage Areas. While in the past, Congress always has restored funding for the program, the Observer is concerned that these landscape scale partners must spend so much time and effort running to stay in the same place.

For more on the ins and outs of the budget process information visit Preservation Action or the Land and Water Coalition.

 

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