Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Property Rights Report
(May 1997)

New York Local elected officials, property rights and labor leaders decry secrecy and endorse Congressional scrutiny of U.N. land designations
Tannersville, New York - House Resources Committee Field Hearing on H.R.901

The packed field hearing on H.R.901, the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act, which the House Resources Committee, chaired by Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), held in the mountaintop town of Tannersville, New York, on May 5, was an important event for the national private property rights movement.

The bill would require Congressional approval of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites before any nomination by the U.S. Department of State or Department of Interior, respectively, could be submitted, and it would protect private property owners from such designations.

The Tannersville hearing was noteworthy in several respects.

Congressman Gerald B. Solomon (R-New York), chairman of the House Rules Committee, personally sought this hearing. His geographically large district was hit twice by Biosphere Reserve designations. In 1989, the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve encompassing much of the northern portion of his district was secretly designated. This was revealed only in 1990 as an argument for a proposal to implement stricter land-use controls over the Adirondack region. Over the years, Mr. Solomon has pointed out that the State is already hampering the local economy with excessive controls imposed by its regional Adirondack Park Agency, which is the entity that submitted the Biosphere Reserve application.

Then, in late 1994, a secret application to the U.S. Department of State by a wealthy environmental group, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, to create the Catskill Biosphere Reserve surfaced before it was approved. This Biosphere Reserve would have encompassed the southern edge of Solomon's district. Early in 1995, the State Senator for the Catskill region, Charles Cook, issued a letter of opposition. Representative Solomon issued a strong letter to the U.S. Department of State, with the words, "This application has generated a great deal of concern with local and county officials in this region of New York, many of whom have flatly objected to being included in the Catskill Center's plans for a United Nation's Biosphere Reserve." Shortly afterward, he was joined by Senator Alfonse D'Amato in an official letter of opposition. The public also became aware of the application and a furor arose. The application was withdrawn in embarrassment.

It has been a mistake on the part of environmentalists to bring U.N. Biosphere Reserves to New York. The Biosphere Reserve designation process is being thoroughly discredited in this state. Expressing the same experience that Mr. Solomon related in his testimony, Mr. Young stated at the hearing, "In my state, there was no public input." Four Biosphere Reserves were designated in Alaska.

"What's wrong with getting Congress involved?" Mr. Young blasted at a witness from the League of Women Voters who opposed the bill. "This is your representative government, not the U.N., not the State Department."

"In my capacity of chairman of the Rules Committee I have postponed all votes today so we could be here," Mr. Solomon said at the hearing. "As a Representative of this beautiful Catskill area and the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, I have introduced and strongly supported passage of H.R.901 because it represents the consensus of my constituents."

In spite of their great geographic and cultural differences, Alaska and New York are now joined in Congress and at the grassroots in defending private property rights and representative government from a common threat of U.N. Biosphere designations.

The hearing also demonstrated that northeastern liberals can go too far for their own good. When he was a State Assemblyman, Maurice Hinchey, who now represents much of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley in Congress, aggressively fought during the early 1990's for onerous additional restrictions on the Adirondack region. He curried the support of the state's environmental machine, but in fighting and losing his war on the Adirondacks, he made enemies in northern New York who resented his efforts to impose laws supported by the populous parts of the state on the rural areas with less representation in the Legislature.

Now in Congress, Mr. Hinchey has made enemies in the West. Protecting land in Utah from development and resource extraction may seem idealistic to many from the Northeast, but in Utah this is experienced as locking up lands which could benefit the local economy. The new Utah Congressman, Chris Cannon, has come east to Mr. Hinchey's district two times to protest these impositions on his constituents.

At the Tannersville hearing Mr. Cannon said that between September 8 and 17, 1996, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and other administration officials officially denied thirteen times that a story about a prospective 1.7 million-acre desert monument was true. On September 18, Cannon said, the President, no Republicans and a handful of Democratic governors and former governors announced the new 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. Mr. Cannon said they had the same claim as usual of "fair and open communication" and that they were "all partners in the process." They gave the same high-sounding pronouncement as for the Biosphere Reserves, he said, that it was "all based in scientific and economic evidence of how this monument is gonna be done."

A prominent environmentalist, Dr. Thomas Cobb, boasted in his testimony that the proponents held four hearings on the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve designation. Representative Cannon asked him if these were "before or after" the designation. "Subsequent," Dr. Cobb replied.

But of the members of Congress at the hearing, Representative Helen Chenoweth of Idaho brought out the classical double-talk of environmentalists. She pointed out how the Crown Butte Mine north of Yellowstone Park was stopped by international pressure resulting from a U.N. designation. In response, Mr. Hinchey said that the environmental impact process made it clear that the Yellowstone watershed would be polluted. The fact is, however, that the environmental impact process was interrupted by the administration, which brought UNESCO officials to Yellowstone to declare the park a "World Heritage Site in Danger." Mr. Hinchey closed with a statement that the Yellowstone incident had "nothing to do with this bill" because Yellowstone is not a Biosphere Reserve but is a "National Heritage Area." The truth is that Yellowstone Park is a World Heritage Site, not a National Heritage Area. The bill would indeed subject future Heritage Site nominations to Congressional scrutiny.

Representative Chenoweth cross-examined Dr. Cobb, the president of the Association for Protection of the Adirondacks. "The operational guidelines of the World Heritage Convention state that State parties should refrain from giving undue publicity to the nominations," she pointed out. "Knowing that, would you continue to work as you did, excluding groups such as the pulp and paper workers council, which testified today?" she asked.

Dr. Cobb replied that the area is a Biosphere Reserve, not a World Heritage Site and that his involvement didn't relate to the guidelines.

Representative Chenoweth said, "I think you were very closely involved."

As a matter of fact, Dr. Cobb has written in a report published by the Association for Protection of the Adirondacks for his fellow environmentalists about an effort to upgrade the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve to a World Heritage Site.

Testimony based on the experience of local elected officials and a county planner pointed out that neither they nor any local officials they knew were told by proponents about the Biosphere Reserve designations beforehand.

On the day after the hearing, a local paper featured the official statement of the Greene County Planning Department director, Ron Roth.

"Greene County's message is a simple one. If you fail to let the local people know what you are up to and if you fail to bring the local people into your decision making process, you can expect the sternest of opposition," Roth said in behalf of the County Legislature.

Dale French, the supervisor of the town of Crown Point on Lake Champlain, and Carol W. LaGrasse, the president of the Property Rights Foundation, who was a member of the Stony Creek Town Board when the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve was designated, testified that local officials were universally unaware of the designation until after it came about.

Once their extreme programs are exposed, environmentalists often use slander in their attacks to discredit the opposition. After a meeting in 1995, Dr. Sherret Chase, a biologist who was active in the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, had circulated a letter stating that he was threatened by a woman who was ominously connected to Utah. At the Tannersville hearing he repeated this direction of thought in his testimony, stating that the 1995 Kingston meeting where he met the woman was "disrupted by a large, thuggish group from the Adirondacks who claimed connections with the Utah militias." Representative Cannon asked him twice, "I would like to know who you refer to in Utah."

"It was second hand," Dr. Chase replied. He couldn't give anyone's name at the hearing. Jack Jordan, a property rights activist from Prattsville who protested at the 1995 meeting about the Catskill Biosphere Reserve plan, testified, "I don't even know anyone from Utah." The only person from the Adirondacks at the 1995 meeting, according to Mr. Jordan, was David Howard, the tall, but rather dignified editor of the Land Rights Letter. Evelyn Rikard, retired Prattsville postmaster, was the woman who had spoken to Dr. Chase at the 1995 meeting. She had written a letter at the time to refute Dr. Chase's accusations about her.

A local paper, the Mountain Eagle, had highlighted Dr. Chase's false accusations in 1995 as though they were true. After the Tannersville hearing, however, the various newspaper accounts were largely fair and insightful. In fact, the Associated Press covered the hearing with a factual article about Jerry Solomon's Speech. But in spite of the obvious discrediting of Dr. Chase's accusations, one local paper, the Kingston Freeman, continued to extend the "Utah militia" fiction, without a hint of what actually came out at the hearing.

Like hearings held in the West about endangered species habitat designations that restrict land use, the New York hearing was before a packed crowd of supporters for protection of local representative government and home rule. Representative Young had to repeatedly warn the crowd that because the time was limited they should stop their applause for speakers in support of the bill. When opponents were tripped by questions from committee members, a low murmur would pass across the audience in the high school gymnasium bleachers.

As in the West, farm and resource-based labor testimony was in support of Rep. Young's reform efforts. Sheila Powers, the mother of six children and grandmother of fourteen, and the president of the Albany County Farm Bureau, brought the endorsements of H.R.901 from nine county farm bureaus in the vicinity of the proposed Catskill Biosphere Reserve. "Let me assure you that I am far more peaceful leaving my children and grandchildren in a strong, autonomous America, knowing that their rights will be respected by their elected leaders," she stated.

Testifying for the 300,000-member Pulp and Paperworkers' Resource Council, Patti Barber, a union worker at the International Paper Company plant in Ticonderoga, New York, expressed her concern about setting aside more unproductive wilderness and closing places where people worked. She said that the United States is not a third world country that needs the United Nations' help to preserve our resources.

This bill, created by Alaskan Resource Committee Chairman Don Young, was promised intense support by New York Congressman Jerry Solomon. "There will be one hell of a debate when this comes to the floor," Mr. Solomon declared.

- Carol W. LaGrasse

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