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Property Rights Foundation Background Brief

Dangers of Designations
Regional, Federal, State and International Land-Use Intrusions
National/American Heritage Areas, UN Biosphere Reserves and UN World Heritage Sites

Myths

Reality
The Designation of National/American Heritage Areas is merely honorary and has no regulatory power. Congressional bills and federal laws for National or American Heritage Areas require a contract between the state government regional entity and the U.S. Secretary of Interior to manage the land-use of the region for preservation. This means federal control of zoning, either directly, by the terms of the “management compact,” or indirectly, by the use of funds dispensed by preservation agencies to influence zoning under a seductive porkbarrel system, the iron-clad zoning is enforced locally, with home-rule seemingly preserved, but private property owners’ rights diminished and locally generated land-use patterns foreclosed.
The designation of UN Biosphere Reserves is for research and education only. The preponderance of research (published in specialized journals) about Biosphere Reserves is about “restoring” rural areas so that human influence on nature is eliminated. The “international significance” of the designated region is trumpeted by the national environmental groups to lobby for government land acquisition and more “environmental” restrictions on land-use.
The designation of UN World Heritage Sites does not bring foreign influence over land in the United States. Exactly what people feared happened near Yellowstone National Park, which is a World Heritage Site. When environmentalists acting in conjunction with the Clinton Administration persuaded UNESCO to declare the park a “World Heritage Site in Danger,” United Nations officials flew to the U.S. from Paris to complain about a gold & copper mine that was planned outside the park, but inside an area the environmentalists call “Greater Yellowstone.” President Clinton himself then stopped the environmental impact review required under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) from being completed and disapproved the mine based on the UN World Heritage Committee’s recommendation.
The designations are to promote tourism. If the stated purpose of tourism succeeds for the National Heritage Areas, of which over 200 are proposed (encompassing much of the West, the entire 2,500-mile Mississippi River and adjacent counties, and most of the land east of the Mississippi), the United States will theoretically become one vast “heritage” tourism complex, to the detriment of productive, less “beautiful” industries, agriculture and forestry. In addition, for Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites to be successful, areas must be off-limits to hunting, and many roads used by hunters and tourists closed. Tourism is one of the first sectors to suffer from recessions and depressions. Much tourism is both weather-dependent and seasonal, and tourism jobs are predominately low-paid. The only things that are “sustainable” are the views that new restrictions protect. Flexibility to respond economically is lost. Most communities cannot afford to focus a large part of their resources on their past heritage. Communities with sagging economies become run-down and uninviting. Preservation zoning and lack of jobs force ordinary people to move away, whereby wealthier people may move in and gentrify the area without generating a productive local economy.
According to United Nations testimony before Congress, local officials are always consulted before Biosphere Reserves are proposed. When state and local elected officials in New York learned from property rights activists about the secret proposal to designate the Catskill Mountains Biosphere Reserve, they were angry, and the application ultimately had to be withdrawn from the U.S. Department of State. Biosphere Reserve applications are usually done secretly, and local people and their elected representatives excluded from information.
UN Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites are approved only after public hearings and Congressional vote. The U.S. Congress failed to pass the legislation (H.R.2379) to establish the Biosphere Reserve system when it was proposed in 1983. The World Heritage Convention was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1973. Working in conjunction with the National Park Service, the Department of State does not consult Congress before designating individual Biosphere Reserves or World Heritage Sites. Neither of these agencies, nor Congress, holds public hearings and no Congressional vote takes place before the UN sites are designated.
The Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site programs have potentially little impact on government or private property. There are 47 Biosphere Reserves and 20 World Heritage Sites in the United States. The designations involve not only government, but private property. The largest Biosphere Reserve in the U.S. is the 10-million acre, secretly designated Champlain -Adirondack Biosphere Reserve. Private landowners were not notified and their permission was not granted for the designation, but environmental groups quickly publicized it among their members, who thereupon lobbied for stricter environmental regulations of the private land in the region. Official goals for “core” and “buffer” regions of Biosphere Reserves and for World Heritage Sites are not consistent with the continued population of the regions.
UN Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Site designations present no threat to American sovereignty. “I think it perfectly understandable that people are concerned that when you set up a program, when you give it a designation, where you as international authorities recognize it, the implication is that down the road when there are conflicts, somebody’s going to be leaned on, and the authority for this, at least the moral authority for this, will be an invocation of some very dubious international authority.”
- Dr. Jeremy Rabkin, Associate Professor, Cornell University, from testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Resources Sept. 12, 1996, on the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act.
   

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