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WORLD RURAL LANDSCAPES PRINCIPLES: Sustainably manage rural landscapes and their heritage values

By Jane Lennon May 13, 2020

     In this issue we will consider the need to manage rural landscapes and their heritage values sustainably. In Australia sustainable management has usually referred to private lands and one of the driving forces in this management has been through Landcare for the last 30 years. This has also spawned other groups practising organic, biodynamic and regenerative farming. At the national level, there is no sustainable agriculture policy despite two decades of a fragmented, stop-start approach. Australia’s only substantial sustainable agriculture policy mechanism seems to be grants available through the National Landcare Program which are around A$1 billion from 2017 to 2023. And even though these grants are substantial, past Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys found that farmers invest at least A$3 billion a year in natural resource management. Around 10% of Australia’s population lives in rural or remote areas. These comparatively small communities – largely farmers and Indigenous land managers – currently steward most of the country. The following case studies illustrate their work in terms of the application of World Rural landscape principles.

C 1.      Consider bio-cultural rights within food and natural resource production. Implement planned management approaches that acknowledge the dynamic, living nature of landscapes and respect human and non-human species living within them. 

Case Study: Spinifex Lands

Byron Brooks and Troy Hansen, ranger, on the sand dune at Miramiratjara (Spinifex Country) during the third Healthy Country Planning on-country trip (August 2015). Photo courtesy of Pila Nguru.

The Anangu Pila Nguru (Spinifex People) are using a combination of traditional and contemporary land management practices to reduce threats and keep the people, culture and land healthy. The land area ranges from the Nullarbor Plain to the south, spinifex and sandhill country to the north and a variety of land forms incorporating salt lakes, rocky outcrops, hills, valleys and open plains with a wide range of desert marsupials, birds, plants and insects. A Healthy Country Plan developed by local rangers and the community provide direction and technical support. A standard Land Access and Mineral Exploration Agreement was the template developed to protect areas of cultural significance .

Spinifex Land Management cultural adviser, Byron Brookes leads the rangers at a buffel grass burn near Tjuntjuntjara, August 2017. Photo: Samantha Doudle / Spinifex Land Management

The Spinifex Land Management Program is based in Tjuntjuntjara, the second most remote community in Australia. The Healthy Country Plan covering 95,000 square kilometres has key projects including reducing the threats of buffel grass, camels, altered fire regimes, and introduced predators. They aim for total eradication of buffel grass from their lands within 10 years. Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) is widely recognised as the single greatest invasive species threat to biodiversity across the entire Australian arid zone as it is a “transformer species” that alters natural environments. It out-competes native plants, increases fire intensity, degrades native wildlife habitat and can outcompete bush tucker food plants for Indigenous people. Whereas traditional Aboriginal patch-burning encouraged regrowth of native grass species, the intense heat produced by burning buffel grass destroys native plants both above and below ground.  Aboriginal women are reluctant to undertake traditional gathering practices because thick buffel grass decreases visibility of snakes (/). This community won the 2017 Western Australian Indigenous Landcare Award for following both traditional Pila Nguru Anangu (Spinifex people) land care practices and fresh responses to new environmental threats.    

Spinifex people conducting a mallee fowl survey, Ilkurka Photo Conservation Management.

C. 3.     Consider the connections between cultural, natural, economic, and social aspects across large and small landscapes, in the development of sustainable management strategies for rural landscapes as heritage resource.

Case Study: Reviving hedge laying, Tasmania

Mosaic of hawthorn hedges remaining in midlands, Tasmania (Landline: Tony King)

The original hedge fences planted by convicts in the 1820s-30s around farming land in the early colony fell into disrepair 60 or 70 years ago. Growing hedges as living fences was the latest agricultural innovation in England in the 1820s and came to Australia with the first settlers. They using local plants like the prickly mimosa which grows on some of the hills but it was not suitable for hedging so imported hawthorn [Cretagus spp.) which grew particularly well in Tasmania.

The Dumaresq family, sixth generation farmers, have employed James Boxhall, one of Australia’s few traditional hedge layers to trim them again, lay them over in the traditional way and bring them back into traditional working order over ten years. The satisfaction of preserving these ancient hedges and passing on a dying craft has kept people like Mr Boxhall on the job, cutting, pushing, bending and chainsawing the thorny and at times nasty plants back into the shape of the traditional fences. Twenty-first century hedge laying involves a mix of traditional and modern skills using the ancient cutting tool, the billhook, and the modern chainsaw, which allow the hedge layers to get through a restoration more quickly than their forebears. It is an expensive, long term, 10 year plan for the Dumaresqs.

Only 3,000 kilometres of historic hawthorn hedges remain. Encouraging people to have their hedges laid instead of pulling them out leads to restoration of a beautiful thick hedge adding value to a property. Some farmers see them as a hindrance to modern larger fields and conservationists see them as exotic plants harbouring feral fauna. Hedges are an important aesthetic component of the Tasmanian cultural landscape of farm lands and not protected by legislation so appealing to owners to look after them is necessary .

Hedge laying in the 21st century involves a mix of traditional and modern skills and tools. (Landline: Fiona Breen)

C. 6.     Support the equitable governance of rural landscapes, including and encouraging the active engagement of local populations, stakeholders, and rural and urban inhabitants, in both the knowledge of, and responsibilities for, the management and monitoring of rural landscapes heritage.Because many rural landscapes are a mosaic of private, corporate, and government ownership, collaborative working relationships are necessary.

Case Study: Gondwana Link, WA

To achieve a band of healthy, reconnected bush across south-western Australia, one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots, Gondwana Link aims to create 1,000 km of continuous habitat from the dry woodlands of the interior to the tall wet forests of the far south-west corner. Two-thirds of the vegetation had been cleared but within 900 kms patches of the original habitat is relatively intact, making the gaps of cleared land the key restoration focus. Now entering its 18 th year, Gondwana Link is an inspiring example of a cohesive effort by a broad spectrum of local, regional, national and international groups, private landholders and Indigenous communities. This is landscape repair at a mega-scale (). To restore habitat and heal country in the Gondwana Link, Greening Australia is working with Nowanup Rangers on a unique eco-cultural project.  Under the shadow of the Stirling Ranges National Park mountains, tree planting is incorporating traditional designs of Noongar culture. This eco-cultural restoration approach recognises the age-old connection between the Indigenous community, plants and animals, and the landscape reconnecting habitat so wildlife can move between the region’s national parks across the wheatlands and sheep farms and help ensure the survival of endangered species such as the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo.

Nowanup rangers planting trees under the shdows of Stirling Ranges National Park, Western Australia, 2016


Dramatic Changes Could be Coming to NEPA

By Eleanor Mahoney April 3, 2020
Coal operations. BLM photo.
Coal mining operations on BLM lands. Image: BLM

In January, the Trump administration proposed dramatic changes to the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a landmark law for both natural and cultural resource protection. For more information on what these actions could mean for the protection of the environment and historic sites in the United States, we interviewed Dr. Tom King.

Dr. King has worked with NEPA and NHPA since before they were enacted in the 1960s. He holds a PhD in Anthropology and is the author of a dozen textbooks on aspects of cultural/heritage resource management. From 1979-89 he headed the project review offices of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and has also worked with the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior, and Veterans Affairs and the General Services Administration, but his major work today is with American Indian tribes and local communities. He can be reached at

LLO: For readers unfamiliar with NEPA, can you briefly explain its significance? 

TK: NEPA articulates POLICIES requiring the federal government to protect the environment as it carries out its affairs, but these are pretty generally ignored. The NEPA regulations, issued in 1978, govern how federal agencies are supposed to assess the environmental impacts of things they propose to do before they do them – to look before they leap

LLO: Can you describe a project /site you worked on / reviewed that was affected by the NEPA process?

TK: Around the turn of the century, there was a proposal to put in a zinc mine in a pristine landscape of cultural importance to the Sokaogon Chippewa Community in Mole Lake, Wisconsin. The project needed a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, so it had to be reviewed under the NEPA regulations, and also under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

Mole Lake landscape. Image: Tom King

The Mole Lake Community was able to show – through the very public NEPA process — that the impacts of the mine on the cultural landscape would be devastating. That might or might not have been enough to persuade the Corps not to issue the permit, but it persuaded the mining company that the public relations costs would be too great.

They gave up and signed the mineral rights over to the Community. That’s an unusual “pure” win, but there are many other cases where tribes and other communities have used NEPA, and NHPA, to reduce the impacts of projects on landscapes and other places they value.

LLO: The Trump Administration has proposed a large number of changes to NEPA implementation. Can you highlight those actions that could potentially have the most impact.

There are lots, and many are subtle. They’re laid out in proposed rulemaking that would make global changes to the NEPA regulations.

The Trump administration essentially treats the process of environmental impact assessment (EIA) under NEPA as a troublesome procedural hoop through which project proponents have to jump, while exposing themselves to bothersome comments from the public – which they can ignore, but it takes time, and what a bother that is! So every chance they get in their rulemaking, they limit public involvement, simplify procedures for project proponents while complicating them for opponents, and so on.

The biggest of the big, I suppose – worst among equals, if you will – maybe are these:

  • Setting things up so an agency can declare a project to be not “major” and thus drop it out of review under NEPA altogether;
  • Effectively eliminating consideration of “indirect” or “secondary” impacts – the things that don’t happen right on the project site on the day of construction, but occur down the road through erosion, sedimentation, population changes, changes in land use, and so on.
  • Eliminating consideration of cumulative impacts – will the project contribute to urban sprawl, for example, or to ongoing air or water pollution, or to gentrification.

LLO: The Trump administration wants to shorten the timeline of the NEPA process to either one or two years. Why is this a big change?

TK: That’s not exactly what they propose; it’s more complicated, and this gets to a bigger issue. The NEPA process springs from the 1969 statutory requirement that each federal agency prepare a “statement” of the environmental impacts of any action it proposes to undertake. That’s called an “Environmental Impact Statement” (EIS), and the Trump administration apparently thinks – correctly, I believe – that many EISs are way too long and cumbersome and take too much time. So what they propose to do – rather than figuring out WHY they’re too long and take too much time – is to impose page limits and get them done within two years.

Another kind of study, the “Environmental Assessment” (EA) is often done to decide whether an EIS is necessary; the administration would like EAs to be shorter than EISs and to take less time. Not unreasonable ideas in themselves, but simpleminded. We really ought to be looking at why EISs and EAs get too fat, and what can be done about it. Beyond that, we should look at how the technical requirements of NEPA and its regulations relate to Congressional intent, and for that matter at how the intent of Congress in 1969 squares with today’s reality. Are we perhaps too fixated on preparing the descriptive “statements” required by the 1969 law, at the expense of recognizing and resolving environmental impacts?

LLO: How would the ability of the public to comment be affected?

TK: Throughout the administration’s proposed rulemaking, there’s vague, hortatory language about public involvement, but specifics are thin, and wherever possible, time frames have been compressed and limits have been imposed to constrain public comment. There’s a systematic effort to shift the burden for developing alternatives from the project proponent to the public.

Moreover, the administration doesn’t propose that agencies DO anything with comments. They can essentially receive them and ignore them. This, it has to be acknowledged, is no different from the case under the regulations as they’ve existed since 1978, but it’s an insulting, anti-democratic condition that really needs to be corrected.

LLO: Can you comment on how accounting for climate change effects might change as a result of these actions?

TK: The Obama administration directed federal agencies doing NEPA analyses to address how their proposed actions might relate to climate change. Would putting X amount of gunk into the atmosphere from a proposed new fracking field contribute to effects on the climate, for instance, and if so what could be done to mitigate them? In its January rulemaking, the Trump administration has said, in essence, “don’t bother.” 

This led 14 members of the U.S. Senate, including current and recent presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, to sign a strong letter of opposition to the rulemaking on February 27. The Senators pointed particularly to the rulemaking’s deletion of cumulative effect as a subject that must be considered under NEPA. Climate change effects almost by definition ARE cumulative; the gunk pumped into the atmosphere by this year’s fracking field might not be so bad if it weren’t for the gunk already belched into it by mining and power plants and automobiles, or that’s likely to be belched into it by the next generation of industrial developments. 

But agencies on the whole don’t like to trouble themselves with cumulative impacts, because they’re complicated, ambiguous, and frankly rather depressing. So — assuming the administration puts its rulemaking in place, and assuming it wins a second term in office, I imagine agency officials will cheerfully ignore climate change along with other cumulative effects in their NEPA analyses, as the seawater rises around their necks, the burning forests collapse on their heads, and novel new viruses make happy homes in their bodies.

LLO: Any other comments you would like to add. 

TK: Luckily, there are members of Congress – not only the 14 Senators but many members of the House – who are very concerned about the administration’s shenanigans. This story is far from over.


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.


Washington Watch

By Living Landscape Observer February 27, 2020
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt joins President Donald Trump at a press conference announcing sweeping changes to the National Environmental Policy Act. Image: DOI

FY 2021 Trump Administration Budget Proposal

In February 2020, the Trump Administration released its fiscal year 2021 budget proposal. As in past years, the environment and the humanities fared poorly. The President’s budget contains recommendations for Congress, but ultimately it is the House and the Senate that determine the final spending bills. These must be signed by the President, however, which can lead to stand offs, such as the 2019 federal government shutdown.

So, what did the FY 2021 budget proposal contain? A few key items are listed below:

  • Elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Institute for Museum and Library Services, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • Severe reduction in monies for land acquisition by the Interior Department via the Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • $600 million in cuts to more than 50 programs managed by the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Over $580 million in cuts to the National Park Service budget
  • Major cuts to programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at a time when its research is critical to understanding the effects of climate change

Staffing Vacancies at the National Park Service

A statement from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) highlights the leadership vacuum at the National Park Service. Key findings include:

  • No permanent National Park Service director since 2017
  • Two-thirds (10 of 15) deputy, assistant, and associate National Park Service director slots vacant or filled by an “acting” appointee
  • Numerous superintendent positions at park units across the system filled by acting appointees

A statement on the vacancies was also released by the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks

Changes Proposed to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The Trump Administration has proposed significant changes to the implementation of NEPA. Among the many modifications, the Administration seeks to limit the type of federal actions subject to NEPA review, shorten study periods, eliminate the requirement to consider the “cumulative effects” of an action, and limit the page length of Environmental Impacts Statements (EIS) and other reports linked to the NEPA process.

For more much coverage and analysis see: a story in the Washington Post; recent congressional testimony by the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks; a story on three specific projects by E&E news; a blog post on what the proposed changes could mean for the climate from Yale Climate Connections; and a link to the Council on Environmental Quality explaining the Administration’s rationale.


Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscapes: A Story of Success

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

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

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

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

Courtesy: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooks Forest State Park
Pennsylvania Wilds

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


Flagging Sites of Universal Value

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

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

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

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

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

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


Conservation and Controversy: Agricultural Landscapes of Marin County CA

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

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

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

Cowgirl Creamery stand at the Tomales Store Point Reyes Station

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

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

Ranch Point Reyes National Seashore

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

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

The debate was framed as cattle or elk?

Tule Elk in the Pastoral Zone Point Reyes National Seashore

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

Cowgirl Creamery

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

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

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

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


Climate Change and Heritage Landscapes

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

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

Harriet Tubman National Monument Visitors Center Courtey Accroian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





By Jane Lennon December 15, 2019


In this issue we will consider the need to develop legal protection and policy frameworks to protect the heritage values of rural landscapes. In Australia this protection varies. Public lands like national parks and conservation reserves are usually managed through their own legislation which sets out the management objectives and values that must be protected. Privately owned rural lands might be zoned rural, rural residential or conservation in local government planning schemes and this entails a range of policies enabling uses. ‘Rural zone’ land has the least constraints and is generally farming land -agriculture, horticulture, grazing, cropping. However, the suite of policies varies in different regions and States.

B.1 Legal and policy frameworks 

Windmills, fences, homesteads, shearing sheds, bores, stock yards, travelling stock routes, bush roads and railheads all changed the appearance of the original country. These historic features form an important part of our rural heritage but are not readily discernible to those without social connections to the countryside. Some of the iconic homesteads and woolsheds are listed on State government heritage registers and legally protected. Most of Australia’s rural heritage which is protected is designed colonial farms and estates, where before 1850 many convicts cleared trees, built fences and yards, and many are now relict landscape features. The associated agricultural landscapes are not protected under heritage controls as they continue to evolve as productive farms. Each State and the Commonwealth maintain heritage registers developed since 1974 in response to the growing recognition of the value of heritage to the community.

Lake Mungo woodshed No 2017 (J. Lennon)

Waterloo Station Homestead, Matheson via Glen Innes NSW (J. Lennon May 2017)

States have the power in the Australian Constitution to regulate land use and heritage listed places are protected through provisions of the local government planning schemes. Some States have Local Environment Plans (LEPs) with Heritage Overlays which identify heritage items, mostly buildings, and aim to protect the visual character of distinctive farming areas. The rural zoning in the LEPs aims to encourage sustainable primary industry production by maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base, while minimising the fragmentation and alienation of resource lands and conflicts between land uses within the zone and land uses within adjoining zones. There is rural landscape zone which aims to encourage sustainable primary industry production by maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base, maintaining the rural landscape character of the land, providing for a range of compatible land uses, including extensive agriculture, while encourage the retention, management or restoration of native vegetation. There strict laws to protect native vegetation which has caused conflict with farmers wanting to clear mature regrowth.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government’s environmental legislation. It covers environmental assessment and approvals, protects significant biodiversity and integrates the management of important natural and cultural places.

If a new project on rural land is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of National Environmental Significance (such as a threatened native grassland, marine park or threatened species) the matter is referred to the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy.

  B.2 Implement policies

In November 2019, Australian Environment Ministers endorsed a new approach to biodiversity conservation through Australia’s Strategy for Nature 2019-2030. The Strategy is supported by a dedicated website, Australia’s Nature Hub. They bring together existing work across the country to guide the development of new and innovative approaches to biodiversity conservation. The Strategy goals support healthy and functioning biological systems by promoting a stronger connection between people and nature, improving the way we care for nature, and building and sharing knowledge. It provides an adaptive approach allowing each jurisdiction the flexibility to establish targets appropriate to the variety of environments across Australia and to change these as knowledge is built during the life of the strategy.

Eradication of pest plants and animals in the rural landscape requires many partners. This case study shows one group at work:

The Tarrangower Cactus Control Group was formed in 2005 specifically to tackle the infestations of Wheel Cactus (Opuntia robusta) invading our rural landscapes. It is a well organised group of volunteers and landowners dedicated to destroying and controlling these infestations of Wheel Cactus on private and public land. This noxious weed is now a Weed of National Significance because it is extremely invasive and difficult to kill. The group encourages participation by demonstrating best-practice management and providing incentives. They hold several community field days each year and produce and distribute information brochures and media releases. 

Tarrangower cactus control group at work

Policies to protect biodiversity in rural landscapes of all scales are being implemented by private groups as well as government nature conservation agencies. 

Another case study revolves around volunteer conservation works: BirdLife Australia’s Gluepot Reserve is Australia’s largest community managed and operated conservation reserve. It is located in South Australia’s Riverland, and managed and operated entirely by volunteers. Some 54,000 hectares in size, it is home to 22 nationally threatened species of birds, 53 species of reptiles and 12 species of bats, some of which are nationally threatened. Volunteers conduct many programs including feral control, bird counts and environmental education courses [].

Gluepot Reserve (Photo: Chris Dunn)

B 3. Define strategies and actions of dynamic conservation, repair, innovation, adaptive transformation, maintenance, and long-term management

The Landcare approach supports farmers and pastoralists in developing robust and resilient businesses incorporating sustainable food and fibre production and natural resource conservation. It also supports engagement and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Indigenous land management, people involved in sustainable resource management on public and private land and activities by young people through educational institutions.

The following case study is typical of many involving small holders along waterways. The project involved restoring degraded creek banks on a small holding following overgrazing and clearing along Bottle Creek, a tributary of the Clarence River in northern NSW. A small grant of $14,000 for materials and tube stock with planting by volunteer labour was used to restore the degraded or missing riparian vegetation The restoration process involved obtaining Landcare funding to fence out grazing stock; collecting and germinating native plant seed, planting tube stock into ground sprayed to eradicate grass and controlling grass as the plants grew. The result was mature trees in three years, reintroducing river side native vegetation which has increased habitat for birds and enabled connectivity to forested higher ridges.

Bottle Creek restoration, 2015 [photos: J. Lennon]

Jane Lennon

Dec 2019


Maritime Washington National Heritage Area

By Eleanor Mahoney November 6, 2019

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is San-Juan-Island-1024x576.jpg
View of Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island, Washington State. Image: Eleanor Mahoney

In March 2019, President Trump signed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (Dingell Act) into law. The bill, one of only a few major pieces of legislation to emerge successfully from the 116th Congress, had significant implications for the country’s public lands. Among the many notable provisions included in the act: 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, five new national monuments, and permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In addition, the bill also designated six new national heritage areas (NHA) – the first time in almost a decade that Congress added landscapes to the NHA system. Of particular importance, four of the six new NHAs were located in western states. This is noteworthy because the vast majority of NHAs are east of the Mississippi River in cities and regions with limited federal government land ownership.

The Pacific Coast, especially, has lacked in representation with no NHAs located in California, Washington State, or Oregon – until this year. The Dingell Act established one new NHA in California, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area, and two in Washington State, the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area and the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area.

The Maritime Washington NHA is an especially remarkable addition to the NHA program owing to its explicit focus on marine landscapes, including historic vessels. The NHA boundaries are the saltwater coastlines of 14 counties or roughly 3,000 miles of shoreline .25 mile from the mean high water mark. These boundaries encompass parts of major cities like Seattle and Tacoma, dozens of smaller towns, National Historic Landmarks and National Register districts, and lands under local, state, and federal jurisdiction. Tribal lands could also be included if a tribe chooses to participate. The lands and waters of the entire region have been and remain homelands to Coast Salish peoples.

An iconic Washington State Ferry near the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Image: Eleanor Mahoney

The drive to create a maritime heritage area in Washington State has been underway for well over a decade. Efforts initially coalesced around a remarkable collection of historic vessels and related-maritime history in the Seattle area and expanded from there. In the mid-2000’s, advocates, with important support from the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP), began a four year public engagement process that culminated in publication of a feasibility study in 2010.

2010 Feasibility Study Area

The in-depth outreach, which has continued since the study’s completion, included a year speaking to city councils, county commissions, local economic development agencies, the public and port commissions about the value of a maritime heritage area. In addition to the DAHP, key early partners included the Washington Trust (Trust) for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Pacific Northwest Maritime Heritage Council. The Trust is the designated management entity for the NHA. The final bill had the strong support of the Governor, both Senators and the Congressional delegation that represented the coastline districts.

The feasibility study emphasized the connectivity of Washington State’s coastal areas, recognizing that since time immemorial salt water has tied the region together. It also highlighted the importance of Washington’s coastline to regional, national, and international history. The study highlighted five goals for the proposed NHA, public awareness, including at a national level, economic development via heritage tourism, capacity building for local organizations, support for working waterfronts, and environmental restoration.

These aims mirror those found in many NHAs, with the exception of one – support for working waterfronts. Washington ports and the connected marine businesses contribute billions to the economy of the state. These are truly working landscapes. They are also contested landscapes. Organized labor, multi-national corporations, environmental activists, commercial and recreational anglers, government agencies, and more all have a voice and stake in these places. Indigenous peoples also have treaty rights to these lands and waters and play an integral role in their management.

The scale and scope of Washington’s working waterfronts represent a new type of challenge for the NHA program. The incipient Maritime Washington NHA will have to balance the competing needs, interests, and perspectives of dozens, if not hundreds, of stakeholders. This is daunting – yet the purpose of the NHA model is to address just this type of challenge.

The core function of any NHA is collaboration. NHAs are platforms for relationship building and partnerships. Management planning is the forum for developing common goals and aspirations for the next ten to fifteen years. It is a critical period for any NHA. This is why federal support is so important – but, unfortunately, the six new NHAs are facing a difficult funding environment. Designated in March 2019, they will not receive any monies this year. The potential for a continuing resolution means that appropriations might not arrive until 2021 – a full two years into the legislatively mandated three-year planning cycle. This will affect all the new NHAs as they undertake the robust public engagement and research processes necessary for management planning.

The Dingell Act also signaled a change in the legislative language governing NHAs. In the past, NHAs often had robust individual bills that contained numerous specific provisions relative to each heritage area. In this bill, the authorizing language for each NHA was brief. Instead, a longer section contained common generic elements that pertained to each NHA. Overtime it will be interesting to see how this new approach affects NHAs – if at all.

No other NHA has been as focused on the water and water-based resources as the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area. Its designation will raise the visibility of maritime resources and history in the state, while also offering new opportunities for collaboration and partnership building among diverse stakeholders in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. The history and contemporary perspectives of Native peoples will be also central to the effort. Protected areas managed by all levels of government will have a chance to exchange knowledge and expertise, as will workers in marine industries.

Thanks to Dr. Allyson Brooks, State Historic Preservation Officer/Executive Director Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and Chris Moore, Executive Director, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, for their perspectives on the new National Heritage Area.


Mesa Verde National Park: Reinterpreting a Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burned landscape on Wetherill Mesa

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

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

Banner at the entrance to the Park Museum

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

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

Congratulations to all! 


WORLD RURAL LANDSCAPE PRINCIPLES: Understand Rural Landscapes and their Heritage Values

By Jane Lennon October 31, 2019
Namaliwiri billabong 2016. Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

As the introduction to the Principles Concerning Rural Landscapes as Heritage recognizes, these landscapes are a vital component of the heritage of humanity. While they are the most common type of  continuing cultural landscapes, they are also some of the most  diverse representing a  wide variety of cultures and cultural tradition.  For this reason, one of the important implementing actions in the World Landscape Principles is to better understand rural landscapes and their heritage values.

This article examines these foundational implementing actions with specific refence to two case studies in Australia:


Recognise that all rural landscapes have heritage values. These values will vary with scale and character (shapes, materials, uses and functions, time periods, changes). They may then be assessed as having ordinary or outstanding values worthy of inclusion in national or World Heritage registers 

Document the heritage values of rural landscapes.This is an essential requirement for effective planning, decision-making, and management. Inventories and catalogues from public agencies like Departments of Agriculture or Geological Survey departments, atlases and maps, all provide basic knowledge of rural landscapes for spatial planning, environmental and heritage protection and management tools, landscape design and monitoring. 

Develop base-line knowledge of the physical and cultural characteristics of rural landscapes. The status of the rural landscape today; its historical transformations and expressions of tangible and intangible heritage; historic, inherited, and contemporary socio-cultural perceptions of the landscape; past and present links (spatial, cultural, social, productive, and functional) between all elements (natural and human-made, material and immaterial) of rural landscape systems; and the stakeholders involved in both their past and present. Inventorying and cataloguing aim to describe rural landscapes in the current state but also to identify changes over time. 

Central Murrumbidgee Valley, New South Wales Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

CASE STUDY: Cross Property Planning Project, Murrumbidgee region, New South Wales

The Cross Property Planning project has connected 74 landowners across 56,000 hectares in NSW’s central Murrumbidgee region in a bid to implement more sustainable land practices. The six-year project evaluated biodiversity attributes across each property to come up with a tailor-made plan for every farm.

Enlisting all 74 landowners to implement more sustainable land practices was challenging because the project needed to work across fence lines to preserve and link scattered native vegetation and the properties varied in size, land condition, and management. The Project partnered with 25 organisations to deliver workshops and field days on landholder properties (over 60 attended by 1,100 landholders) demonstrating techniques such as pasture cropping, low-cost erosion control, low-input pasture management, paddock subdivision and weed containment via native species. Plans were drawn up based on each property’s needs, with incentive funding provided to put them into practice. 

Farmers identifying seeds, soil samples and vegetation at a Cross Property Planning Workshop Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

So far 1,761 hectares of farmland has been fenced for the protection of native vegetation, with more than 86,000 native seedlings planted. Dams and other waterways have been fenced to control livestock access, reducing erosion and enhancing water quality. Integrated weed management and coordinated pest management has taken place, while revegetation around gullies has sought to prevent dryland salinity impacts. Remnant vegetation on properties, including scattered mature trees, has also been protected

The participants acknowledged the Indigenous history manifested in artefact scatters along creeks, scar trees and in place names. They also examined the extent of colonial clearing of the original vegetation, fire and flood histories, and previous attempts by some farmers to stabilise soils and limit stocking numbers.This Murrumbidgee Landcare group are proud of their cooperative efforts. In 2018 they were won the Australian Government Excellence in Sustainable Farm Practices Award

Inventory and catalogue rural landscapes at all scales (world, regional, national, local).These cataloguing tools should integrate local, traditional and scientific knowledge and use systematic methods that are readily achievable and suitable for use by both specialists and non-specialists in all countries in order to collect and compare rural landscapes internationally and locally. In order to achieve an effective database, inventorying and cataloguing activities should consider complexity, costs of human resources, timing of data collection and organisation, and involve both experts and local inhabitants. The community of farmers who cooperated to map and plan conservation actions on their farms were described in the previous article.

Develop knowledge to enable comparison of rural landscapes at all levels (world, regional, national, local) It is important to monitor historical changes to rural landscapes and support shared learning and collaboration from local to global scales and among all public and private stakeholders. 

Recognize local populations as knowledge-holders. These are the people who in many cases help to shape and maintain the landscape and should be involved to the building of collective knowledge. 

Promote extensive and ongoing cooperation among public institutions, non-governmental organizations, and universities. Identifying partners for research, information sharing, technical assistance, and coordination of a wide variety of knowledge building activities at all administrative levels.

Namaliwiri billabong 2009 Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

CASE STUDY: Namaliwiri billabong, Ngukurr, Roper River, Northern Territory 

The Ngandi swam among the water lilies in billabongs, collecting bush food and bush medicine and having ceremonies nearby. Over 70 years the landscape was transformed by cane toads, rubbish, pests, weeds, and tree felling. In 2002, Cherry Daniels established a women’s ranger group to help restore the land. Cherry says billabongs are like “supermarkets” for her people —full of plants and animals that can be eaten, or made into useful things: water lilies, sedges and grasses, paperbarks, sweet and bitter yams, fish, freshwater turtles, crabs, mussels, Magpie geese and goannas.

Cherry Daniels, Namaliwriri billabong 2016 Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

Today, the Yugul Mangi rangers consisting of 20 men and women from several different Aboriginal groups care for a combined 20,000 square kilometres of their lands around Ngukurr (Salleh 2016). Greening Australia Inc funded fencing off billabongs to stop feral pigs, horses and buffaloes from trampling the surrounding ground, muddying the waters and eating prized water lilies. Together with Macquarie University scientist Dr Emilie Ens, the rangers studied fenced billabong areas, comparing them to unfenced areas. Two of the billabongs in the fencing study are part of a songline on Cherry’s country and of deep cultural significance (Ems et al. 2016). The study showed that four years of fencing saw an increase in lily cover at Namaliwiri billabong from 10 to 60 per cent. Good water lily cover is a measure of success from both a western scientific and Indigenous perspective.

More than a third of Australia is recognized as Aboriginal owned and managed land and Indigenous people living on these lands have a key role in conservation. Over the years the Yugul Mangi Rangers have worked with, and received funding from, many sources including:

  • The Atlas of Living Australia
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Greening Australia
  • Landcare 
  • The Federal Government’s Working on Country Indigenous Ranger program. 
  • Macquarie University
  • Australian National University
  • AQIS


Emms, E.J., C. Daniels, E.Nelson, J.Roy, P.Dixon, 2016. Creating multi-functional landscapes: Using exclusion fences to frame feral ungulate management preferences in remote Aboriginal-owned northern Australia, Biological Conservation, 147 (May): 235-246.

Salleh, Anna, 2016. “Way of the water lilies: Where science meets the billabong.h

Jane Lennon

October 2019


Landscape Management: More than just Words

By Brenda Barrett September 25, 2019

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

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

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

What is wrong with this picture? 

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

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

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

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


WORLD RURAL LANDSCAPE PRINCIPLES: Threats, challenges, benefits, and sustainability

By Jane Lennon September 25, 2019
Abandoned farm house in wheat belt, South Australia -beyond sustainable limits of cropping

The ‘Principles Concerning Rural Landscapes as Heritage’ (ICOMOS 2017)[i] after defining rural landscapes also briefly develop themes relating to threats, challenges, benefits, and sustainability for rural landscapes from a cultural heritage point of view for today’s society.  These challenges have been examined by scholars, scientific and cultural associations and public administrations, both at international and local levels and you will probably be aware of many of these issue

Importance of rural landscapes

Rural landscapes have been shaped over millennia and represent significant parts of the earth’s human and environmental history, ways of living, and heritage… The diversity of agricultural, forest, animal husbandry, fishery and aquaculture, wild-resource, and other resource practices is essential for the future adaptation and resilience of global human life.’  These multifunctional resources have socio-cultural values giving a strategic character to the rural landscape. Heritage values can be present in all rural areas ‘both outstanding and ordinary, traditional and recently transformed by modernisation activities’ while, depending on the location, ‘heritage can be present in dif­ferent types and degrees and related to many historic periods, as a palimpsest.’ Awareness of these identified values is a necessary step in promoting the sustainable conservation of such rural landscapes and transmission of their associated knowledge and cultural meanings to future generations.


Destruction of rural biodiversity by clearing woodland for grazing, North Queensland, Australia

Rural landscapes in many parts of the world are undergoing radical transformation. ‘Increasing human populations and climate change make rural landscapes vulnerable to risks of loss and/or abandonment or radical change. The threats to rural landscapes reflect three inter-related types of change:

1.Demographic and cultural (population growth in urban areas and depopulation in rural areas, urban expansion, intensive infrastructure works, development pressures, loss of traditional practices, techniques, local knowledge, and cultures.)

2.Structural (globalization, change and growth of trade and relations, economic growth or decline, intensification of agricultural practices and techniques, change of land and loss of native pastures and of domesticated species diversity);

3.Environmental (climate change, pollution and environmental degradation including non-sustainable resource mining, impacts on soil, vegetation, and air quality, and loss of biodiversity and agro-biodiversity).’


‘Heritage should play a significant role in the recognition, protection and promotion of rural landscapes and biocultural diversity due to the significant values it represents.’

To conserve the integrity and authenticity of heritage requires focus on assuring the standard and quality of living of local populations working and living there. Rural heritage is an economic resource and its use should reflect traditional methods while providing vital support for its long-term sustainability.

The multifunctional resources of an Irish rural landscape near Limerick, Ireland


Rural landscapes are critical resources for the future of human society and the world environment’.  In addition to food and raw materials, rural landscapes contribute to land conservation and the transmission of rural cultures to future generations. Rural landscapes often provide distinct economic and tourism benefits when closely associated with the communication and enhancement of their heritage values. Communities as knowledge-holders, or local initiatives and collaboration among stakeholders, rural and urban inhabitants, and professionals have contributed to conservation, awareness, and enhancement of rural landscapes as a valuable shared resource.

A benefit to the rural landscape and local community: restored heritage landscape of water meadows at Castletown, Ireland


Many rural systems have proven to be sustainable and resilient over time. Various aspects of these systems can inform future management of rural activities and support conservation and improvement of biocultural diversity and peoples’ rights to adequate quantities and good quality of food and raw materials.

Landscapes are in continuous natural evolution and often inevitable processes of transformation thanks to their links to farming practices and farmers’ ways of life. ‘Rural landscape policies should focus on managing acceptable and appropriate changes over time, dealing with conserving, respecting, and enhancing heritage values.’ What changes are appropriate will be the subject of future articles in LLO. These articles will discuss in detail the criteria that will in­spire action.

[i] All quotations in italics in this article are from the Principles Concerning Rural Landscapes as Heritage’ (ICOMOS 2017)

Jane Lennon is an historical geographer with a PhD on cultural landscape conservation; she is a founding member of Australia ICOMOS, adjunct professor at Deakin University, honorary professor at the University of Melbourne specialising in heritage landscapes and has published extensively. She has long experience in national park, museum, historic site management, heritage boards including the Australian Heritage Council, ICCROM and the ICOMOS/IFLA International Scientific Committee on cultural landscapes


Rural Renaissance and Endurance: Painting a picture of hope in the Heartland

By Guest Observer September 24, 2019

This article highlights rural renewal and continuity in center of the country. It is based on a talk given by a young farmer who with her husband manage an organic farm in Decorah Iowa, which they describe “as growing organic crops, grazing sheep and cattle on pasture, powering their farm and home with the sun, and growing deep roots in our community.” They also run a diversified operation offering Friday night pizza parties that attract neighbors from near and far and offer a unique Glamping experience. Appropriately, these remarks were made at a recent dinner to benefit the Decorah Community Food Pantry. 

Good evening. I’m Maren Beard. My husband Tom and I own and operate Luna Valley Farm , which is located deep in a valley, about 8 miles north of Decorah Iowa. Maybe some of you have found your way out there for an Iowa Margherita or Peachy Pig pizza?

Last week we received a call from our neighbor, Paul Johnson. Paul is a former State Legislator, former Director of the National Resources and Conservation Service, former Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and a retired farmer. He wanted to gift us his 1948 John Deere B tractor, the first tractor that he and his wife Pat purchased when they

 moved from Chicago to Iowa in 1974 to start farming. I have to say, it was the first time that anyone ever called to offer us a tractor!

We made plans to visit Paul and Pat on Thursday morning, which happened to be our wedding anniversary. As we sat with them sipping coffee and sharing stories, Paul reminded us of his favorite Aldo Leopold quote.  — “A farm is a portrait of the farmer.” Think about that for a minute – “A farm is a portrait of the farmer.” He shared with us that he’s proud of the portrait that he and Pat are continuing to paint on their farm and gave us the best anniversary gift we could imagine when he told us that he’s proud of the portrait that we’re painting on our farm. 

Paul and Pat milked 15 Jerseys and had a flock of sheep. They shared machinery and labor with neighbors. (Side note: the very tractor that Paul and Pat gave us, was used to spread manure on our farm decades ago!). When everyone else was getting bigger and increasing dairy herds to 60-70 cows, they stayed small and diverse. As neighbors and friends went bankrupt during the farm crisis, Pat and Paul kept on planting trees, milking cows, growing a garden and investing in the soil. When the farm experts and extension agents wanted them to terrace their hillside to plant corn and soybeans, they instead planted trees and healed 22 gullies. 

Bottom Field Luna Valley Farm

Tom and I began painting our portrait six years ago when we bought our farm from a neighbor who was born and raised there. We’ve taken down miles of rusty barbed wire fence, hauled away more than 200 tires and loads of mattresses, computer monitors and other junk that we inherited in our woods and pastures. The 100-year continuous corn cycle in our bottom field has been interrupted with plantings of hay, oats and peas. Rotationally grazing our sheep and cattle through our pastures has improved the grasslands, brought back the bobolinks and helped manage the buckthorn, parsnip and multiflora rose in our Burr Oak Savannah landscape.

Pizza Barn Luna Valley Farm

When we purchased our farm, the barn had a big hole in the roof. The barn that now houses our pizza kitchen, pizza seating and has been featured in countless Instagram posts by pizza guests, would be on the ground had we not prioritized a new roof. At that time we had no thoughts of pizza nights on our farm but we love and respect old buildings and the history they hold so we made an investment. We’re working hard to continue painting a portrait on our farm that reflects who we are and what we value.

A farm might be the portrait of the farmer but the agricultural landscape in this place is very much a portrait of the community. After all, you are the eaters who support what we, as farmers do. What kind of a portrait do you want to paint? What kind of a portrait do you want your children and grandchildren to see as they walk, bike, canoe and drive around this beautiful place? All of you who are seated here tonight can help create habitat for butterflies and pollinators, heal gullies and contribute to vibrant agricultural economies and landscapes through buying groceries. In fact, you have at least three opportunities to paint this portrait each and every day. 

Glamping at Luna Valley Farm

Tonight, as you eat tomatoes and greens from River Root Farm, apples from Peake Orchard, grass fed beef from Luna Valley Farm and root vegetables from Patchwork Green, you are both painting a portrait of a more beautiful and diverse agricultural landscape, and ensuring that everyone in our community can be part of that portrait by increasing food access. 

Thank you.

Maren Beard

After a youth spent in rural Wisconsin Maren attended Luther College in Decorah where she studied Environmental Studies and Spanish. She fell in love with the area and went on to earn a Masters of Science in Sustainable Food Systems and joined the team at Luther College as the Assistant Director for the Center for Sustainable Communities. Maren enjoys hanging out with the sheep, hosting dinner parties, growing vegetables and traveling the world.

Decorah Heritage Dinner Talk

September 8, 2019


An Uncertain Future: Charting the Bureau of Land Management’s Landscape Scale Work

By Living Landscape Observer August 13, 2019

Over the past two decades, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has dramatically expanded its involvement in planning and conservation on a landscape scale. It has done this in partnership with other federal agencies, state government, Indigenous nations, and non-profit organizations.

During the past two years, however, much of this work has been refocused, especially in the realms of planning, partnerships, and science. The future is now uncertain with competing interests making predictions difficult. The administration tends to defer to state and local government, over federal management, but still aims to prioritize the needs of industry, even when these goals conflict with local prerogative.

Infographic created by the BLM detailing the scope of its management responsibilities.
Infographic created by the BLM detailing the scope of its management responsibilities. Source:

To complicate matters further, in mid-July, the Department of the Interior announced that BLM headquarters would be moving from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado. An official statement from DOI leadership touted the plan as a means to improve efficiency and decrease costs. The underlying motivations behind the decision, however, are potentially far more worrisome.  

Only a small percentage of BLM employees currently work in the Washington office, about 400 out of a national staff of roughly 10,000. The main functions of these workers are planning, policy, budget, and legislative affairs. The proposed relocation would scatter the bureau’s Washington D.C. based employees nationwide, sending them to state offices as well as to the new, much smaller headquarters in Colorado. Critics argue that the plan is, at its base, an attempt to weaken oversight of public lands and shift authority from career staff to political appointees in the Interior Department – with the end goal of expediting energy and mineral development and commercial grazing. 

What does all this mean for the agency’s large landscape initiatives?

In order to get insight into the future of this work and the potential implications of the BLM headquarters move, the Observer talked to Kit Muller. Recently retired from the BLM after a 38-year career with the bureau, Muller spent much of the past two decades working to better understand (and respond to) the impacts of landscape-scale changes on the American West, including climate change, wild land fire, invasive species, urban growth and industrial development. The following is a summary of our conversation, edited for clarity. 

Many of our readers may be more familiar with other public lands agencies like the National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service. Can you tell us a little bit about the BLM?

The BLM was created in 1946, following the merger of DOI’s General Land Office (GLO) and the U.S. Grazing Service. It manages about 10% of the U.S. land area, with most of that concentrated in 12 western states, including Alaska. Created in 1812, the GLO was the oldest land management agency in the U.S.  For most of its history, it was dedicated to surveying the public domain and transferring it to private parties.

The BLM has a dual mission – multiple use and sustained yield, as mandated by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. The multiple use aspect has long been dominant. With its roots in the GLO, the BLM has traditionally managed use rights, not resources. It was only with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other environmental and preservation laws that the bureau really began to consider the impacts that use rights could have on the environment. 

Could you tell us more about the bureau’s large landscape work?

Since the second half of the George W. Bush administration, the bureau’s landscape work has been expanding. This picked up significantly during the Obama administration, but has now slowed considerably under current DOI leadership. 

Four areas should be highlighted. 

1) Planning

Before the 2000s, BLM rarely did planning on a landscape scale. The one exception was the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP). Adopted in 1994 under the Clinton Administration, the NWFP covered BLM lands (along with lands managed by the USFS) in western Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Drafted in response to the listing of the northern spotted owl as an endangered species, the plan forced the bureau to think on a bigger scale and to work with a range of partners. 

More recently, the bureau built on this work to collaborate on three additional landscape-scale planning efforts – the Greater Sage Grouse conservation plans, the plan for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, and the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in California.

In each of these cases, the bureau had to work with diverse partners from multiple levels of government, the private sector, and nonprofits. For example, the historic Sage Grouse plans (since altered under the current administration) involved the BLM, the USFWS, the U.S. Forest Service, state agencies in 11 states, and private landowners across a 173 million acre landscape. 

2) Data Collection

At the same time that the bureau expanded its planning efforts, it also began to take data collection more seriously. Before 2004, data was primarily collected on a project-by-project basis – for an individual grazing allotment, for example, a mine site or well-pad – rarely systematically across a landscape. That changed owing to pressure and encouragement from the OMB as well as internal support. OMB said the BLM needed to be more systematic in its monitoring activities and offered funds to the bureau to get started. Partnering with ARS, NRCS, USFS, USGS, and EPA, over the last decade the BLM has established core indicators, standard data collection methods, and statistically based sampling frameworks for monitoring.

The results were pretty astounding. BLM now has standardized data on the aquatic and terrestrial condition of much of the public lands it manages This allows managers to make decisions based on standardized data from the field in addition to relying on their own expertise and experience. More training is still needed to apply this across-the-board and to discuss its importance to partners. BLM is also now collecting data about the disturbance “footprint” associated with the projects it authorizes.

3) Science 

Initially recommended during the George W. Bush administration, a National Science Committee was established during the Obama Administration involving managers from many levels of the bureau. Its goal was to advance science in the agency and ensure that best practices were integrated into decision-making on a daily basis.

4) Partnerships

The idea of cooperative conservation gained significant traction in the bureau over the last two decades. In addition to the partnerships involved in the above mentioned planning efforts, the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) are a prime great example of this.  The 22 LCCs brought together federal,and state, governments, along with Indigenous nations, nonprofits, and universities to work together on a landscape scale. Addressing climate change was one primary aim of this initiative.

How was the current administration affected these efforts and what will be the impact of the proposed headquarters relocation? 

Right now, we are in a period of commodity ascendency. This is not the first time this was occurred. There was a period of commodity ascendency under Interior Secretary James Watt in the early 1980s and then again when Vice President Dick Cheney played a dominant role in public lands management in the first term of the George W. Bush administration.

So far, the current administration has re-done the plans for the National Petroleum Reserve and for the Greater Sage Grouse. They have also been promoting oil and gas development to the detriment of conservation and other uses. The role of BLM career staff in headquarters has been diminished significantly. Career managers and program leads are not privy to many conversations and are sidelined in the decision-making process – one might say that the goal is to make the BLM headquarters irrelevant. So many of career staff members are in acting positions or on detail, expertise is being lost. Also, these individuals’ work on policy or budget development has been significantly curtailed. The Office of the Secretary is now routinely reviewing documents that were once approved without any Washington Office review. This is also a big change. 

The landscape scale work is in jeopardy. Almost all the work of the LCC’s has been eliminated under the current administration. Plans are being re-done with significantly less emphasis on landscape considerations of condition and risk. The systematic collection and use of environmental data in decision-making are not management priorities. Without a well staffed and functioning Headquarters Office, it will be exceedingly difficult for the BLM to effectively participate in any regional or national interagency and intergovernmental conversations about natural resource management.


World Rural Landscape Principles: Principle One, Definition and Values of Rural Landscapes

By Jane Lennon August 1, 2019

As readers of Living Landscape Observer, you may wonder why rural landscape principles are necessary. After all, rural landscape was a category of interest in the World Heritage Convention (Art. 1 and 2) in 1972, but it had become too general as more precise understandings of the meanings of ‘landscape’, ‘nature’ and ‘environment’ evolved. They were often seen as separate concepts. Accordingly, UNESCO introduced the concept of landscapes at a global level in 1992 in part as a substitute for the more generic term ‘site,’ which was a descriptor in the World Heritage Convention (UNESCO 2016)

The term ‘cultural landscapes’ replaced rural landscapes without explanation in the revised Operational Guidelines for the World Heritage Convention in 1992 and was defined as cultural heritage with three sub-categories: ‘designed landscapes,’ ‘continuing landscapes’, and ‘associative landscapes.’ Since then, the cultural landscapes ‘continuing land­scapes’ category has included rural landscapes even if the latter were not explicitly mentioned in the definition. 

The need for a systematic approach to classification, evaluation and management since the 1990s has led to thematic studies of landscapes involving pastoralism, specific crop production like rice and wine grapes, vernacular rural villages, oases, and the Food and Agricultural Organisation’s Globally Important Agricul­tural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) primarily dedicated to maintaining site-specific technical traditions and agricultural knowledge systems tied to rural loca­tions. But ‘landscape as heritage’ needs a common thread to bind protection based on methodology and awareness of the value of rural landscapes each with its particularities, traditions and sustainable usage. The World Rural Landscape Principles were developed to fill this need and the preamble states that:

‘Rural land­scapes are a vital component of the heritage of humanity. They are also one of the most common types of continu­ing cultural landscapes. There is a great diversity of rural landscapes around the world that represent cultures and cultural traditions… They provide multiple economic and social benefits, multifunctionality, cultural support and ecosystem services for human societies’ (ICOMOS 2017a).

Barossa Valley, South Australia


Rural landscapesare terrestrial and aquatic areas co-produced by human-nature interaction and within which renewable natural resources are produced, such as food and/or raw materials. At the same time rural areas have cultural meanings attributed to them by people and communities.

Rural landscapes are dynamic, living systems encompassing places produced and managed through traditional methods, techniques, accumulated knowledge, and cultural practices, as well as those places where traditional approaches to production have been recently changed.

Rural landscapes encompass both well-managed and degraded or abandoned areas that can be reused or reclaimed. They can be huge rural spaces, peri-urban areas as well as small spaces within built-up areas. Rural landscapes encompass land surfaces, subsurface soils and resources, the airspace above, and water bodies.’

There is an implicit distinction between ‘rural’ and ‘agricultural.’ Agricultural activity is historically focused on sedentary food production accounting for scientific de­bates and terminology which have enlivened historical, geographical and agronomic studies on the question of agriculture and rurality. The term ‘rural’ acts as an umbrella concept in the context of the Principles to clearly articulate the types of production activities besides agriculture that de­veloped through the centuries in the various areas of the world, such as aqua­culture and fishing, different kinds of animal husbandry, forestry management, hunting, natural product harvest­ing, extraction and working of shared resources such as salt. these activi­ties has given rise to specific landscapes.

Landscape is understood as the co-presence of physical features and of meanings attributed to them. ‘At the same time, all rural areas have cultural meanings attributed to them by people and communi­ties.’ (ICOMOS 2017a) Rural ac­tivity creates rural spaces which can be read through the lens of landscape concepts, underlining both the physical characteristics and the multiple cultural values (aesthetic, historical, social, spiritual, economic, scientific) attributed to them.

Vietnamese workers tending potato crop, Toolangi, Victoria, Australia

‘Rural landscape heritage:Refers to the tangible and intangible heritage of rural areas. Rural landscape heritage encompasses physical attributes – the productive land itself, morphology, infrastructure, vegetation, settlements, transport, and trade networks, etc. – as well as wider physical, cultural, and environmental linkages and settings. Rural landscape heritage also includes associated cultural knowledge, traditions, practices, expressions of local human communities’ identity and belonging, and the cultural values and meanings attributed to those landscapes by past and contemporary people and communities. Rural landscapes encompass technical, scientific, and practical knowledge, related to human-nature relationships.  Rural landscapes are expressions of social structures and functional organizations, realizing, using and transforming them, in the past and in the present. Rural landscape heritage encompasses cultural, spiritual, and natural attributes that contribute to the continuation of biocultural diversity. Rural landscape heritage can be found in all rural areas, both outstanding and ordinary, traditional and recently transformed by modernization activities, although in different degrees and types and related to many historic periods, as a palimpsest.’

Extensive pastoral landscape, western Queensland, Australia

The second definition of ‘rural land­scapes as heritage’ defines the concept of heritage in conjunction with the concept of landscape. The attributes of heritage, its ‘biocultural diver­sity’ characterise a rural area and form one of its fundamental corner-stones.

These concepts expressed in the Principles in the two definitions represent a strongly innovative declaration compared to the traditional political vision of heritage protection based on choosing specific areas for their exceptional qualities. These areas may range from a conservation area national park without considering its buffer zone to areas of productive rural use.  However, this view is no longer effective or useful especially given the common over-simplification splitting productive rural areas into two categories: those related to industrialised production having lost any historical memory or heritage value, and those related to areas where any remaining traditional activity is viewed as a sanctuary of precious values at risk of disappearing forever. This binary view ignores the many types of rural activity that exist in the landscape and are worthy of consideration for protection. 

You might like to consider a range of rural landscapes with differing values from your own experience. The next issue will discuss threats to the heritage values of rural landscapes.


ICOMOS, 2017a. “ICOMOS-IFLA Principles Concerning Rural Landscapes as Heritage”.

Charters/GA2017_6-3-1_RuralLandscapesPrinciples_ EN_adopted-15122017.pdfUNESCO, 2016. Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage

Convention, Annex 3, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Paris.

Jane Lennon is an historical geographer with a PhD on cultural landscape conservation; she is a founding member of Australia ICOMOS, adjunct professor at Deakin University, honorary professor at the University of Melbourne specialising in heritage landscapes and has published extensively. She has long experience in national park, museum, historic site management, heritage boards including the Australian Heritage Council, ICCROM and the ICOMOS/IFLA International Scientific Committee on cultural landscapes


Vatika Bay Maritime Landscape

By Guest Observer August 1, 2019
Pavlopetri site in Vatika Bay, Laconia Greece, Bing Images

 Vatika Bay is a maritime landscape located at the extreme southern end of the Peloponnese peninsula in Laconia Greece. Its marine ecosystem supports numerous endangered and exotic plant and animal species including Posidonia sea grass, Caretta Caretta (loggerhead) sea turtles, Sperm whales and Risso’s dolphins.

 Located at an ancient crossroads of Mediterranean navigation, Vatika has long been a hub of seafaring tradition. This heritage lives on in the modern shipping industry, in traditional fishing villages and through art such as the “Sailor of Vatika”, which overlooks the eastern shore at Neapolis (Visit Vatika, 2017).

 Vatika is perhaps best known as the site of Pavlopetri, the submerged ruin believed to be among the oldest known underwater sites in the world. Studies conducted during the years 2009-2013 by Dr. Chrysanthi Gallou of the University of Nottingham suggested it dated from the 5thmillennium B.C. The importance of its role in history of Mediterranean seafaring cannot be overstated (Gallou, 2008). 

 Given this complex environment, it is not unexpected that the interdependence between natural, cultural and historic layers has resulted in conflict due to competing objectives. The issue at hand is that anchor damage from commercial shipping activities is threatening both cultural and natural resources. Locals report that the anchors of large ships scar the bay bottom and destroy the meadows of Posidonia sea-grass there. Posidonia is the basis of Vatika’s ecosystem, providing erosion control, shelter for juvenile marine animals and a food source for multiple species. Because the port is unregulated, a corollary concern is that indiscriminate anchoring will destroy the submerged archaeological site of Pavlopetri.

Commercial shipping, Bing Images

The issues at Vatika Bay provide valuable insight into strategies in landscape conservation and protection. Furthermore, the escalating response to threats to the cultural and natural resources has been an informative case study in collaboration among local stakeholders and demonstrates the effective application of civil engagement in landscape conservation and protection.

The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation defines civic engagement as an “ongoing process of public conversation that allows people to collect information, share common values, and wrestle together with tough issues where values may be in conflict” (NPS, 2009, p.3). In the case of Vatika Bay public conversations took the form of town hall meetings between and among the surrounding municipalities and resulted in the passage of multiple resolutions calling for resource protections Vatika Bay (Euser 2019). Local attention catapulted the issue to the national and international stages, where representatives of the Greek ministries of both shipping and culture went on record in publicly opposing  use of the bay as a commercial anchorage, and even the Assistant Director-General of Culture for UNESCO at the time, Francesco Bandarin, appealed to the Greek authorities for regulatory protection of the site (Euser, 2019; Chhotray 2017).

Unexpectedly, this public outcry resulted in a divergence of strategies in protecting Vatika’s resources.  Cultural resource advocates relied upon pragmatic local grass-roots initiatives, whereas environmental strategists pursued a more legal and politically oriented approach.

 In 2016 local and international chapters of the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH) entered the fray and succeeded in nominating the Pavlopetri archaeological site to the World Monuments Fund “watch list” – a list of endangered international cultural heritage sites – and facilitated a “watch day” for stakeholders to come together in solidarity for the cause (World Monuments Fund, 2016). ARCH also kept the issue relevant on social media and began a letter writing program in which shipping companies were engaged directly with respect to their anchoring practices. The correspondence was non-confrontational and aimed at recruiting the industry as a partner in conservation rather than an opponent to it (Bernard, 2018).   

Locally, in an agreement between the community and the Greek Euphorate of Underwater Antiquities, marker buoyswere purchased by private contributors and placed around the site to protect it from anchoring. They also succeeded in having the coordinates of Pavlopetri published on the hydrographic charts used by mariners, and discussions with port authorities resulted in the anchorage area recommended by the Coast Guard being located no less than two and one-half nautical miles from the site (Schultz, 2019)

Posidonia sea-grass, Bing Images

A legal analysis suggested the presence of ships in the bay to be in violation of international laws including MARPOL 73/78 and EU laws including 92/43/EEC (Bernard, 2018). A petition was submitted to the European Parliament protesting the environmental damage inflicted on Vatika Bay and citing evidence from a 2015 Environmental Report published by the Hellenic Center for Marine Research. (European Parliament, 2017). In response, the EU pledged to “draw the attention of the Greek authorities to the need to take adequate measures in order to prevent damage to Posidonia beds from anchoring activities in Vatika Bay” (European Parliament, 2017).  

 Unfortunately, as of this writing the Vatika Bay landscape is still in jeopardy from an environmental perspective. Despite the legal challenges, Greek authorities recently announced the preparation of a special port regulation which, if passed, will provide a legal means for ships to continue using Vatika Bay as an anchorage. The proposed Natura 2000 designation is yet to be approved, and ships continue to use the bay as an unregulated anchorage and dumping ground.

 In conclusion, the collaborative grass-roots efforts of individuals and organizations at Vatika Bay have resulted in enhanced protections for the Pavlopetri submerged archaeological site. These successes exemplify the effective application of civic engagement and highlight the expediency of direct action and locally focused initiatives toward landscape conservation and protection. Conversely the environmental campaigns for Vatika Bay have largely stalled in the purgatory of legislative procedure. Although political will and legislation are necessary for permanent change, this case illustrates the challenges inherent to initiatives based on environmental law and political pressure as they are lost in the muddled maze of national and international bureaucracy.


Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (2019)Pavlopetri  accessed online 3/30/2019 from

Bergin, T. (2015) The Great Greek Shipping MythHow Greek Shipowners Talk Up Their Role, and Why that Costs Athens Millions, The Greek Crisis, Reuters, accessed online from                                                                                                   

Benard, C (2018). Letter from The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage to Mattheou Dimitrios, CEO, Arcadia Ship Management dated 11/06/2018

Bing, n.d.Freight, Photographic Image, Pixabay. from,2,6

Bing, n.d. Gres-Pavlopetri, photgraphic image, Wikimedia, accessed online from

Bing, n.d., Posidonia Oceanica Portofino 01, photographic image, Wikimedia, accessed online from

Chhotry S. (2017) Vatika Bay Hope Spot: Ancient Grecian City Abuts Marine Abundance , National Geographic, accessed online 03/31/2019 at

European Parliament (2017), Petition No. 11078/2016, Committee on Petitions, accessed online at

Euser, B. (2019) Our Story, Ships Wreck Vatika Bay. Facebook. Accessed online 03/25/2019 at

Gallou, C. (2008) ‘Between Scylla And Charybdis’:  The Archaeology of Mycenean Vatika on the Malea Peninsula,British Archaeological Reports Series 1889, Archaeopress,Oxford UK, accessed online 3/31/2019 from                     

National Park Service (2009) Stronger Together: A Manual on the Principles and Practices of Civic Engagement. US DOI, NPS Conservation Study Institute, Woodstock

National Park Service (2017) National Heritage Areas Website. Feasability Studies. Accessed online 4/2/2019 from

Schultz, S. (2019). Underwater Update, Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage, accessed online 3/29/2019 from

Visit Vatika (2017) Settlements: Profitis Elias, accessed online 3/30/2019 from                                         

World MonumentsFund (2016), Pavlopetri Project, Accessed online from

Guest Observer: James Wright is a graduate student in Cultural Heritage Management at Johns Hopkins University. He has a background in maritime heritage and submerged cultural resources, and has worked on projects with the, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program in St Augustine Florida, the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the Maritime Archaeological Historical Society in Washington D.C. James currently works with the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage on the Pavlopetri project, maintaining a database documenting commercial shipping in Vatika Bay, Lakonia Greece.


World Rural Landscapes: A Worldwide Initiative for Global Conservation and Management

By Guest Observer July 5, 2019

What are the best ways to identify and conserve rural landscapes? Since 2012, participants at a series of international meetings have sought to answer this complex question, in part through the development of a new set of shared general principles.

The initiative is being lead by the International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes (ISCCL). The ISCCL was established in 1971 by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in partnership with the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) as a joint expert committee. The committee promotes world-wide cooperation in the identification, study, and management of cultural landscapes. It also offers training and education programs.

The text for the Principles for World Rural Landscapes was finally endorsed and adopted, as a doctrinal text, by ICOMOS at its 19th ICOMOS General Assembly & Symposium, Delhi, India, 11th-15th December 2017. The IFLA World Council adopted the Document on 20th October 2017 in Montreal (Canada).

Since the ratification of the Principles, the World Rural Landscape group has been active disseminating the Principles Text and developing related activities such as an atlas of world rural landscapes, a glossary, and bibliography. In particular the group has developed:

  • A Chinese translation of the Principles’ Text
  • A Spanish translation prepared for ISCCL Mendoza meeting in December 2018
  • A web site dedicated to the World Rural Landscape Initiative
  • Introduction of the World RuralLandscapes Initiative and rural landscape issues in other symposiums, for examples at the “Nature–Culture Journey” (Hawaii 2017, San Francisco 2018)
  • Support for ICOMOS in the organization of the Symposium on Rural Landscapes for the Morocco – Marrakech ICOMOS Assembly, October 2019 and ISCCL Annual Meeting in Dublin, June 2019.

Over the next several months, the Living Landscape Observer, will present a series of short articles illustrating each of the Principles on World Rural Landscapes with real world examples and case studies. Many thanks to Jane Lennon of Australia ICOMOS for leading this effort. Please read more about Dr. Lennon at the end of this article.

We would value your feedback and welcome examples and case studies to improve the Principles. Key elements of which include: a definition of terms, identification of challenges, exploration of threats, and discussion of benefits related to rural landscape conservation. The Principles also outline a plan of action for not only protection, but also dissemination of knowledge surrounding best practices.

Jane Lennon is an historical geographer with a PhD on cultural landscape conservation; she is a founding member of Australia ICOMOS, adjunct professor at Deakin University, honorary professor at the University of Melbourne specialising in heritage landscapes and has published extensively. She has long experience in national park, museum, historic site management, heritage boards including the Australian Heritage Council, ICCROM and the ICOMOS/IFLA International Scientific Committee on cultural landscapes


The Green River Drift: Transhumance in the America West

By Guest Observer June 30, 2019

By Bethany Kelly

Green River Drift Association

Transhumance – the practice of seasonally moving livestock from winter pastures in the lowlands to summer grazing in the mountains – is an ancient intangible and cultural tradition practiced all over the world.  Also known as pastoralism, the term usually invokes quaint and idyllic images of sheepherders in the European Alps or Pyrenees Mountains and not Wyoming cowboys, but the term is applicable to both.   Cowboys from the Upper Green River Cattle Association have moved their herds by horseback along the Green River Driftfor over one hundred and twenty years. Although the practice is not as oldin Wyoming as many European countries, transhumance in Wyoming is equally invaluable to the landscapes, the livelihoods, and the cultural traditions of the American West.   Traditional transhumance is also an inherently environmentally sustainable practice and necessary for the continued health of mountain forests and marginal use lands. 

Beginning at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allotments on the Little Colorado Desert or the Mesa in Sublette County, Wyoming and ending at U.S. Forest Service allotments in the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF), the Green River Drift– established in 1896 – is the oldest continual use cattle corridor in the United States. The Drift is the first ranching related listing on the National Historic Register as a Traditional Cultural Property; it was listed in 2013. 

Every May, cattle are moved from their spring grazing on the high desert BLM land of the Upper Green River Valley along smaller trails – known as spur lines – to the main trail at Middle Mesa Wall.  From here, cowboys push livestock nearly sixty miles north along the Green River and the New Fork River.  After passing over private properties and land managed by the BLM, U.S. Forrest Service, and the State of Wyoming, the herds reach their summer grazing on the Upper Green River Cattle Allotment – a 127,000-acre U.S. Forest Service allotment in BTNF.  The trip takes three to four weeks to complete.  Cattle will graze on the BTNF until the middle of October. When the weather begins getting markedly colder, the cattle will “drift” – or naturally migrate – back down south along the route they traversed in the early summer. Cowboys round up the strays and return the herds to the ranches for winter.

The Drift consists of both natural and man-made elements.  In some places the topography of the land funnels livestock along the route; creeks and man-made reservoirs provide water; roads, underpasses, and bridges ensure safe passage over rivers and roadways.  The corridor follows a large ungulate seasonal migration route as well and crosses through “Trapper’s Point”– a section of a 7000-year-old migratory route used by pronghorn and mule deer and containing several archeological sites.   

Transhumance and Sustainability on the Drift

Like its European counterparts, transhumance on the Green River Drift is under threat. Encroachment from oil and gas production and rural sprawl gradually squeeze the corridor tighter.  Agricultural homogenization makes smaller scale, traditional beef production more expensive.  Federal changes in land use prioritization are a constant threat.  And climate changealters the rangeland.  Finally, ranching families depend upon one another, but as more ranches are sold and subdivided, the number of families pushing cattle up the Drift decreases and endangers the sustainability of transhumance in the Green River Basin (more on the challenges of Western transhumance here).  

The disappearance of transhumance has a wide range of potential ramifications.  While beef production – even organic, grass-fed beefproduction – has rightfully become increasingly scrutinized for its deleterious environmental impacts, cattle raised on mountain pastures and marginal use lands are different than traditional grass-fed livestock; they are environmentally beneficial.  Among other things, mountain cattle herds increase forest biodiversity and help prevent forest fires and soil erosion.  Studies done on European transhumancehave found that the overall health of forests drop when livestock are removed. Finally, cattle corridors often run along the same trails as other migratory animals; when we preserve the corridor for seasonal livestock use, by extension, we are also preserving it for migratory wildlife. 

As climate change accelerates and the world faces greater and greater environmental consequences as a result, traditional intangible and cultural practices – such as transhumance – might provide a roadmap towards an environmentally sustainable future.  But only if we can keep them.  So, next time you are driving through the Rockies and you see a herd of cattle remember that those lovely beasts and the cowboys that drove them there are producing environmentally sustainable beef products, maintaining the health of the forest, protecting migratory routes for large ungulates, and – if they are cattle from the Upper Green River Cattle Association – preserving over a hundred years of western intangible and cultural heritage. 


Battaglini, L, S. Bovolenta, F. Gusmeroli, S. Salvador, E. Sturaro (2014). Environmental 

Sustainability of Alpine Livestock Farms.Italian Journal of Animal Science, 13:2, 3155, DOI: 10.481/ijas.2014.3155. Retrieved from

Capper, J.L. (10 April 2012). Is the Grass Always Greener? Comparing the Environmental 

Impact of Conventional, Natural and Grass-Fed Beef Production Systems. Retrieved from

Green River Drift(n.d.) Retrieved from

Huntsinger, L. & C Forero, L. & Sulak, A. (2010). Transhumance and pastoralist 

resilience in the western United States. Pastoralism: Research, Policy, and Practice. 1. 1-15. 

Kauffman, M., J. Meacham, H. Sawyer, A. Steingisser, W. Rudd, & E. Ostlind (2018). Wild 

Migrations: Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates. Retrieved from

Liechti, K., Biber, JP. (1 November 2016). Pastoralism in Europe: characteristics and 

challenges of highland-lowland transhumance.Retrieved from

Manrique, E, Olaizola, A.M., Bernues, A., Maza, M.T., Saez, A., (1999). Economic diversity of 

farming systems and possibilities for structural adjustment in mountain livestock farms. Retrieved from

Mitloehner, F. (25 October 2018). Yes, eating meat affects the environment, but cows are not 

killing the climate.Retrieved from

National Park Service (2013). National Register of Historic Places: Green River Drift Trail 

Traditional Cultural Property. Retrieved from

Reeves, C. & K. Bagne. (May 2016). Vulnerability of Cattle Production to Climate Change on 

U.S. Rangelands.Retrieved from

Bethany Kelly is a pursuing a Master’s in Cultural Heritage Management from Johns Hopkins University.  Raised in Cody, Wyoming and currently living in Cheyenne, she holds a BA in History from the University of Wyoming.  She is interested in the sustainability and preservation of large working Western landscapes.


A National Network for the Labor Movement

By Eleanor Mahoney May 30, 2019

The story of organized labor in the United States is complex, powerful, inspiring, and infuriating. Millions of workers took collective action, often at risk of bodily harm or death, to better their lives and the lives of their peers. As a consequence of their bold efforts, regulations regarding work place safety, wages, hours, and overtime, now benefit large numbers of people employed in the U.S. – though millions still remain un-protected.

The Kate Mullany House in Troy, New York is a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Site. Mullany organized female workers in Troy’s laundry industry into one of the first female unions in the U.S. Image: Wikimedia Commons, Adam Lenhardt

At the same time, however, the labor movement and its members generated policies and supported campaigns that espoused intense racism, xenophobia, sexism, colonialism, and homophobia. Most unions remained segregated by race well into the 20th century, for example, and hiring practices in many fields often benefited white, male workers to the detriment of women and people of color.

Across the country, hundreds of sites tell the story of organized labor in some fashion. However, there is no central means or mechanism to identify these locations. Roadside plaques and waysides are common, but because the entities behind these markers are so varied it is almost impossible to know the extent of signage and interpretation – or to understand how the stories might be connected on a larger scale. Highway transportation departments, state historic preservation offices, nonprofits, city government, local and international unions and more have all contributed. Cataloging all the locations and then mapping them might reveal new linkages within and across regions for example and motivate additional documentation efforts.

It would be fascinating to chart the age and locations of plaques and other signage. Where, for example, are markers related to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) located? Also , what language is used? Are striking workers described as rioters or in more complimentary terms? Do signs acknowledge the boycott of Pullman Palace Cars on American railroads in 1894 or the grape boycott of the late nineteen sixties and seventies led by farm worker organizations, including the United Farm Workers (UFW)? Can signs be used to track the histories of the Knights of Labor or Pullman Porters?

Many signs came about as a result of grassroots organizing, and this part of the history also should be recognized. Perhaps new technologies can be harnessed (and likely have been already!) to expand the possibilities of these types of markers.

Memorial sites are another way that labor history is marked. These places acknowledge the danger of work as well as the danger of organizing at work. Some eulogize those who died on the job, others men and women killed by the military, law enforcement, and angry mobs during protests and confrontations. Creating a shared record of these somber locations would do much to aid our understanding of labor history and labor memory. How long after the fact are memorials created and who pays for their establishment and upkeep? Again, many are grassroots efforts owing to lack of interest or even active hostility of political leaders to acknowledge the violence that so often characterized corporate and government responses to worker organizing. Geographer Kenneth Foote has documented these types of cases in his 1997 book Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy.

Mammoth Mine Disaster Memorial in Mount Pleasant, PA. Image: Wikimedia Commons user BuzzWeiser196

Historic sites and structures that tell the story of the labor movement should also be better recognized and protected. These vary from structures in private ownership that have connections to workers’ struggles to museums and visitor centers. The American Labor Museum in New Jersey is one example. The museum is housed in the Botto House National Landmark, which is named for Italian immigrant and silk mill worker, Pietro Botto and his wife Maria. In the early 2000s, the National Park Service completed a draft Labor History Theme Study for the National Historic Landmarks Program. That document is now being updated and revised by Dr. Rachel Donaldson, who has written eloquently on connections between labor history and public history and the imperative to lift up workers’ voices and experiences when interpreting the history of work. (1)

Heritage Areas, at the state and national level, also deserve recognition. They include individual sites, but also significantly seek to interpret entire landscapes shaped by work. Heritage Areas highlight the connections between human and non-human nature and show connections across industries and ecosystems. In Pennsylvania’s Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor it is possible to trace the entire story of anthracite coal. Learning about extraction, processing, transportation, and distribution. Workers’ life stories become vivid as does the often times devastating impact of resource extraction.

Archives are important as well. Universities, including Wayne State, Washington, and Maryland, all hold impressive collections. These are also community hubs and meeting places and bring together different constituencies involved in documenting the story or work and collective action.

Ruins are another category that should be considered. All too often, the physical remains of labor have not been preserved. This can be true of housing, factories, meeting places, mines, mills, farm land, and more.

Finally, a listing of sites and stories that remain unmarked or unacknowledged is also vital. This could then inform future documentation initiatives.

Given the complexity and diversity of sites and stories involved, I believe it is time for action to create a new national network dedicated to the history of the labor movement. It could be created by Congress and administered by the National Park Service, as other networks have been – or perhaps it should be independent, with roots in labor and community organizations.

The creation of such a network would acknowledge the centrality of labor to telling diverse American and global stories. As union density has declined, so too has broad public understanding of their past and present role in shaping life at work and outside of work too (time for leisure is a key achievement of labor).

Such a network would also highlight the fabulous efforts already underway in many communities, especially the work of local, state, and regional labor history organizations, including the Illinois Labor History Society and the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association, among many others. Metropolitan labor councils have also done impressive projects, with the Metropolitan Washington (DC) Council, for instance, sponsoring events all during the month of May and hosting regular walking tours. A network could tie together all these endeavors, connecting researchers and knowledge keepers from diverse settings. It could provide funding for new preservation and programmatic initiatives.

A network might also reveal what voices haven’t been documented, including stories that highlight discrimination and violence on the part of the labor movement – as well as against workers. A federal network might also prompt a more thorough and public analysis of the role of the federal government in shaping the trajectory of unions and other worker organizations. Scholars have published important work on connections between the state and labor, but this has not filtered down into historic sites and public interpretation to the degree that it needs to if we truly want to have a fruitful discussion about how labor has shaped the U.S. economy.

This idea is probably not novel. If it has been proposed before, please let us know what happened in the comments below. Or, if a network does not seem appropriate, what other means exist both to link together existing locations that tell labor movement stories and to call attention to worker histories of collective action more generally.

  1. See, for example, Rachel Donaldson’s article, “Placing and Preserving Labor History” in The Public Historian 39, no. 1 (2017): 61-83.


Perpetual Easements as Historic Events

By Guest Observer May 29, 2019

By John H. Sprinkle, Jr.[i]

“The family farm is sacred ground:” so opined Tiffany Dowell Lashmet in the April issue of Progressive Farmer.[ii] This often repeated and widely felt sentiment is well understood and broadly accepted among families who have generations of attachment to a particular patch of ground. It has inspired many, both farm owners and land conservation advocates, to develop creative secular ways to protect spaces and places that are held dear, and that represent a physical gift to future generations. 

A family farm in Kent County, Maryland protected via a conservation easement. Image: John Sprinkle, Jr.

A common means to provide for the perpetual conservation of a family farm, or any historic resource, is the legal instrument known generally as a conservation easement.

In Maryland farmland preservation has a long history. It developed in relation to efforts to preserve the viewshed from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate across the Potomac into Prince Georges County during the late 1950s and early 1960s.[iii] In 1966 Maryland was the first state to authorize the differential taxation of parcels encumbered with conservation easements, an approach that enhanced the value of such easements as a landscape conservation tool.[iv]

National recognition for this achievement was evidence by NPS Director George Hartzog’s presence at the Annapolis signing ceremony for the “scenic easement bill” in May 1965 and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall’s participation at the January 1966 ceremony marking Prince George’s County’s adoption of a conservation easement program.[v]  At that time, such easements were seen as just the right prescription to address the ever increasing acquisition costs for those portions of the rural landscape thought to be worthy of protection then and into the future.

With increasing suburbanization in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s (fostered by federal housing loan programs and further development of the interstate highway system) conservationists and political leaders in Maryland’s rural communities began to recognize the loss of prime farmlands as a threat to the economic and cultural survival of farming within the state.

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) was established by the General Assembly in 1977, three years before the creation of the American Farmland Trust (AFT), a nationwide organization that highlighted diverse threats to the continuation of farming in the United States, as well as efforts to conserve such landscapes.

Using easements as a conservation tool, MALPF acquired its first agricultural land preservation easement in 1980. By 2017, the MALPF program had expanded to include the permanent protection of more than 300,000 acres spread across more than 2,200 farms in the state. Through a variety of federal, state, and local land conservation programs, Maryland has permanently preserved more agricultural land than any other state.[vi]

Map of Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund Easements (2017)

Beyond these impressive statistics is the recognition that placing a conservation easement on a property is in itself a historic act.  I can vividly recall the family meeting, held around the kitchen table, where my parents discussed participation in various land conservation programs. It was in 1987, during the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and our place had been recognized as one of 30 “Bicentennial Farms” in Maryland by the United States Department of Agriculture for its status as a family farming operation for over two centuries.

That same year, as evidence of their commitment to the conservation of the farm’s cultural landscape, my parents entered into a “district agreement” with the MALPF program. With this agreement, they committed to preserving the farm and maintain its agricultural land uses for a five year period, an action that set the stage for a subsequent execution of a permanent easement on the property in 2004.  Efforts to conserve—in perpetuity–the cultural landscape within this property constituted a significant event in the history of its land use.

Farmland Forever signage recognizing permanently preserved agricultural lands in Howard County, Maryland.

But when does the act of conservation itself become historic?  Among the federal lands, there are at least two examples where parcels are automatically considered as being eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places: at National Parks and National Cemeteries.  From the moment these places are created, that is, placed into perpetual federal care by the Congress, they are considered as historic properties and are afforded the protections found within the National Historic Preservation Act and other federal statutes.

In the same way, farm lands that are protected via a perpetual conservation easement are immediately historic places. The permanent nature of the easement means that its impact on the property’s land use history will be no more significant in five, ten, or even 50 years. 

By definition, the act of establishing a permanent easement is an exceptionally important event, and worthy of consideration and enumeration within the National Register—no so-called “50 year rule” need apply to these properties. Acknowledging the secular significance of conservation easements, many states have invested considerable funds to identify, evaluate, and support the continuing stewardship of what Lashmet called “sacred ground.” 

From a cultural landscape perspective, the act of establishing a permanent conservation easement creates a historic property.  Such an approach would have two potential impacts: first, land conservation advocates would be able to characterize the execution of a permanent easement as a historically significant act—one that tied today’s actions with those in the past and in the future. 

Second, the landscape of historic properties within agricultural communities would gain another layer of recognition, in that parcels protected by perpetual easements, now considered as historic properties in their own right, would gain additional consideration during future planning endeavors by local, state, and federal agencies.  The former Executive Director of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Robert Garvey was correct when he observed in 1969 that both “the act of preservation and the product preserved are a part of a meaningful life and meaningful total environment.” [vii]

John H. Sprinkle, Jr. is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and serves as a historian for the National Park Service.  He has published widely on the history of the historic preservation and land conservation movements. He and his wife, Esther, are stewards to a legacy family farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore which in 2014 completed its third century of operation. 

[i] The views and conclusions in this essay are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the National Park Service or the United States Government.

[ii] Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, “This is Sacred Ground,” Progressive Farmer, (April 2019), pg. 11. 

[iii] John H. Sprinkle, Jr., Saving Spaces: Historic Land Conservation in the United States, (New York: Routledge, 2018), pp. 23-43 and 150-151.

[iv] “The Nation’s First Local Law Granting Tax Credits for Preservation,” Preservation News, February 1, 1966.

[v] Richard Homan, “Prince George’s Passes First Law in U.S. To Exchange Tax Credit for Open Space,” The Washington Post, January 16, 1966.

[vi] The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation FY2017 Annual Report.

[vii] Robert Garvey, “Look Back in Anger?” Preservation News, February 1, 1969.


‘Memorial Park’ Carlisle PA

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Material

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


The Crying Need to Establish an African American Burial Grounds Network

By Brenda Barrett April 28, 2019

Historic Lincoln Cemtery Mechanicsburg Pennsylvania (Carilse Sentinel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Proposed National Register rule threatens Historic & Cultural Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett March 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments are due April 30, 2019.