Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

The American Heritage Rivers Program
A Threat to Private Property Rights

Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.

Eagle Forum National Conference
September 12, 1998
Arlington, Virginia

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss President Clinton's American Heritage Rivers program, a new federal executive program of designating selected major rivers supposedly to preserve their natural, cultural and historic resources.

The American Heritage Rivers program, if successful, promises to diminish local representative government and private property rights. The program is also justifiably opposed because it involves many of the same parties and extreme preservation thinking of international programs such as the un-ratified Convention on Biological Diversity that came out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. But I would like to offer an experience that illustrates the need not to concentrate too much on a single focus in opposing designation programs.

About two years ago, a woman telephoned me at home one morning at 6:30 a.m. She was upset because a land conservancy was going to acquire a tract of forest property from her town of Ellenville, N.Y. Because the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for the Catskill Mountains, which would have included her town, had recently been defeated, she was concerned about the United Nations. She thought that the property could be somehow going into the hands of the United Nations.

I said to her that in the long term it could be that if we don't remain in control of our government and matters like this it could very well be that the United Nations would be involved in owning and governing land in the Catskills, but that it was important to oppose the land trust acquisition of the property for other reasons. Usually when that land trust acquires property it is for a flip to government under a prearranged the deal, I said. While the land trust owns it it does not pay real estate taxes. They may block hunters and fishermen from using the land and generally keep it in a way that it doesn't serve the public from the area forced to give the tax exemption. When the State acquires the land, the town will have little say in how the tract is managed, and the town will be endlessly in conflict with the State over the tax revenues that should be due on the tract. She said that a meeting about the matter was to be held that very evening, and I suggested that before she left for work she follow through with a discussion with the town supervisor and persuade him to consider these issues.

She called the Property Rights Foundation back in a day and left the message because no one was in. She said, quoting almost verbatim, "I called the supervisor and spoke to him. He assured me that the United Nations was not going to acquire the land. I just wanted to let you know that there was nothing to worry about."

Please remember this story, because, in one way or another, it illustrates a number of points. The threat from programs which I call land designations, including the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and the Clinton American Heritage River pronouncements, is not singular, but multitudinous. We should not focus on the long-term, exotic threat to the neglect of the practical, mundane immediate and short-term.

When you consider that it was I that exposed the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve programs in New York, my husband Peter who with the assistance of my brother at Penn State extract the documents from libraries from New York to Australia to understand the Biosphere Reserve program, and I who was not unjustly blamed for the defeat of the Catskill Mountains Biosphere Reserve, you should not have difficulty accepting my assertion that I have grave concerns about international involvement through such designations. But I consider the sovereignty issue to be one of long-term significance and that the real and more short-term dangers of such designations, which I will soon be describing, are the essential threat. If we cannot convey these dangers, we do not understand how such designations affect our freedom. We will fail to either monitor them adequately or defeat them. Ultimately, we truly will suffer, in addition, through the loss of national sovereignty. How will this happen? At least in part by more of the same sort of infringements on our rights, imposed by very similar methods. It will be pitiful, indeed, if the day arrives when we lose home-rule and representative government to a form of government which imposes control from beyond our Constitution and borders.

Fine-Sounding Goals
As you know all too well, government programs that can take away your rights are often couched in very desirable terms. A familiar example is that of imposing national education standards for the purpose of solving the problem of school failure. The idea is that we need the federal government because kids aren't reading and doing math at grade level.

The same system is in vogue for environmental issues. Rivers are portrayed, truthfully or falsely, as badly polluted. Local cultures and historic sites are portrayed as threatened. The beauty of the countryside is being lost to bad land management. Lack of vision and financial resources keeps localities from tackling region-wide issues.

The federal government is seen as visionary enough, geographically big enough and having enough expertise and resources to deal effectively with these real or imagined problems. The federal government is seen as being able to solve the deterioration of the historic architecture of the downtown Main Street, even though federal post offices somehow manage to be built in startling modernistic contrast to colonial, Greek or Victorian downtowns. The federal government will save the local culture. But the federal government condemns and tears down towns with houses by the hundreds for National Parks. But what are the biggest changes in local culture in the last couple of centuries? To start — the automobile, the movement of the workplace from the home to the job site elsewhere, now of both husband and wife. The decline of rural churches, rural agriculture, the end of the one-room school house, the decline of river trade in many areas. And so on. What have these to do with federal policies? About all the federal government can do is promote local museums. If it tries to direct the evolution of the culture by central planning, even less rural prosperity will be the result. Remember-the big impact of these preservation programs is on rural, not urban, America.

But let us move aside from the issues of culture and historic preservation, often used as arguments for the American Heritage Rivers program, to the ones which are at the heart of our concern: the need to control pollution, the need to impose regional planning and the need to control the growth of population, which is related to the perceived planning need. These are the three key areas noted in the official pronouncements nebulously describing the American Heritage Rivers program, and I think that these will be the areas where property rights will be threatened.

Preservationist Land Designation
My field of concern is private property rights. Private property rights are fundamental to the exercise of all our freedoms. One of my special areas of interest is land designations. Land designations may be honorific, as the U.N. Biosphere Reserves purport to be; pre-zoning, as in the Northern Forest Lands program for New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine; or grandiose direct regional zoning as is the federal Columbia River Gorge Commission, Lake Tahoe Commission mention by Mr. Meese last night and New York State's Adirondack Park Agency which includes 3 million acres of private land, or as were the original plans for the Hudson Valley Greenway.

I got into the problem of these designations because of a 1990 New York study, for the future of the Adirondacks where I unfortunately reside. I obtained the back-up, already-written legislation, which, in conjunction with the report, called for 2,000 acre per house zoning, removing houses where they were visible from highways, which were to become mere travel "corridors," and the acquisition of 2/3 million acres of additional government land from private property owners. I discovered two other overlapping designation programs at the same time—the Northern Forest Lands program for federal zoning over 26 million acres of land, and the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve. South of us was the Hudson River Greenway.

We did a tremendous amount of research to ferret out the significance of the Biosphere Reserve designation. Basically, we discovered that the land areas were to be preserved, though whatever government programs are available, by dividing them into core, buffer and transition areas. Core areas, which are to have no permanent human habitation, are to be connected by corridors, also known in the international environmental circles as "land bridges."

In the preservationist's literature, much of it making most peculiar reading, the prime land bridges are considered to be the riverine corridors, the riparian strips, or, put simply, the rivers and the land along them.

Environmental thinking today is to preserve ecosystems connected by corridors. The most extreme presentation of the thinking is in the "wild lands" program, where the core areas, sometimes trumpeted as "ecosystems," are connected by corridors and gradually the cores eat up the buffer areas, the corridors become wider and wider and over the years only isolated areas of inhabited space remain within a thick grid of once small core areas and once narrow corridors. In the end, according to the leading thinkers, 90 percent of the area of the contiguous states is to become entirely wild, with cities in these areas to become only hulking ruins as reminders to the ugly days when civilization predominated. These outlandish ideas are funded lucratively by the Pew charitable trust, the Turner Foundation and others, and so have actually gained ground, but although these ideas are repeatedly in print, the environmentalists will lie through their teeth and deny them when convenient.

I oppose the American Heritage Rivers program for what it does on its face and for what it obviously represents to the environmentalists. The American Heritage Rivers program is one of the top two or three most important programs to those who support the protection of the environment through federal controls. All of these organizations, from the National Audubon Society to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to the Wildlands Project oppose private property rights.

Purported Practices
When speaking publicly, advocates of the American Heritage Rivers program present it as having two main purposes, easing the way of localities in their dealings with federal regulatory agencies and helping to make federal grants available to localities.

History of Program
In my estimation, the American Heritage Rivers program is a substitute for the failed generic American, or National, Areas program which was the subject of a three-year pitched battle in Congress. This battle started in the Democratic Congress, was blocked by our friends, and then went into the Republican Congress, where the national property rights movement organized and the program was defeated. The environmentalists wanted it so badly that, behind the scenes, they offered to concede one of their hardest fought action areas, grazing reform, to have the Heritage Areas bill pass, but the property rights movement prevailed—in spite of an iffy Republican Congress. At the end of the 104th Congress, an Omnibus National Parks bill passed with a number of individual American or National Areas included, adding to the former ones, and the total of Congressional designations is now sixteen. This includes the Hudson in New York, where even Congressman Jerry Solomon, who long blocked the program, acquiesced, first under pressure from Gingrich to help a New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey in order to get Dems on board, and then in response to the local Republican machine's desire for porkbarrel. This year there is another omnibus parks bill gestating, and more American Heritage porkbarrel Areas may be designated by Congress under Republican leadership.

The President announced in his 1997 State of the Union that he would designate ten American Heritage Rivers, which surprised all of us — we are not insiders. The President's Council on Environmental Quality presented a first description of the program in the Federal Register in May 1997, and early in September 1997 the President issued his executive order with further description. All of the material is quite nebulous, but certain details and phraseology are most revealing. There were also sworn testimonies by the director of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, Katie McGinty, at a July 1997 Congressional oversight hearing and again at a September 1997 Congressional hearing on a bill to stop funding, when a number of national leaders and grassroots activists of the property rights movement spoke. I have noticed that the sworn promises of compromise by Katie McGinty are often meaningless and that the seeming concessions to home-rule in the official publications are also of no importance to the Council when an important designation like that of the entire length of the Hudson River, submitted by Governor Pataki, is under consideration. In that case the promise of the need for community initiation and support was circumvented and the designation actually kept secret as to the areas to be included so that the touchier regions wouldn't know enough to protest.

I was invited to speak at the September 1997 Congressional hearing. You are welcome to take copies of my presentation, which are available on one of the information tables. The hearing was on Representative Helen Chenoweth's important bill H.R.1842, to deny the use of any federal funds for the American Heritage Rivers program. There is a national drive to add to the current 52 sponsors in the House for Representative Chenoweth's bill. Copies of the bill are on the table. Please take a copy and do your best to bring your Representative on board as a co-sponsor.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation also has a lawsuit constitutionally challenging the American Heritage Rivers program — on Representative Chenoweth's behalf. By using an executive order to establish the program, Clinton has usurped the legislative power of Congress, which is a violation of separation of powers. The case is before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Effective means to deny private property rights
The American Heritage Rivers program brings grants, computer monitoring and a juggernaut of federal agencies together with the potential to effectively increase government control over private property and thereby deny private property rights.

Grants and zoning
Using grants as the camel's nose under the tent or as the direct incentive, state and federal government agencies will effectuate the enactment of stricter local, regional or state-levels zoning. Keep in mind that the preservationists think that it is just as good if locals carry the gun for state or federal level elite planning. Basically, this type of zoning is directed to the gentrification of the countryside, and trying to preserve a beautiful, largely imagined remembrance of the countryside, with no smells, no independently practiced home industry, such as the blacksmiths of the past — the modern counterparts ranging from machine shops to junk yards and gas stations, and no mines or manufacturers as once flourished. They seek to enact a rural landscape of bucolic agriculture and forest extending beyond strictly bordered hamlets. One could spend the time of an entire conference such as this Eagle Forum and begin to touch on the ways that preservation zoning carried out on either a state or local level has destroyed businesses, ruined families and bankrupted innocent people, even sent them to jail.

Just last month I spent a weekend reviewing the pro se (without a lawyer) petition to the U.S. Supreme Court of a bankrupt Massachusetts dairy farmer. He had lost his $25 million farm and was living with his aged wife in small rented quarters. He was desperately hoping to be heard by a nation's highest court without the help of lawyers, for which he had absolutely no more money, all because of zoning enforced by a local preservationists group. We have many more such heartbreaking examples.

A good example of how a voluntary federal land-use program working in conjunction with grants brings in excessive local zoning is the 1972 federal Coastal Zone Management Act. In 1996 the town of Coxsackie, New York, defeated, a so-called Local Waterfront Rehabilitation Plan, or LWRP, which was basically strict preservation-oriented zoning for the entire township, extending several miles from the river. This planning was promoted by the New York State Department of State to implement the Coastal Zone Management Act. Extremely capable, civic-minded people had to work hard to stave off this basically federal program disguised by the trappings of various state and regional agencies. Grants also promote the full complement of greenway aspects, namely trails and land acquisition. Land regulation will pressure people into selling out.

Computer Monitoring
The program description promulgated by the Council on Environmental Quality heralds the ability to instantaneously update a publicly available, computerized "state of the river" monitoring of individual river pollution, planning and population. In my opinion, this federal computer monitoring will be by geographic information systems, or GIS, or digitalized data converted on a coordinate basis to computer mapping of overlays of data. Four years ago I wrote a report exposing the Adirondack Park Agency's GIS system of about 30 databases from local assessment records to satellite space imagery. The surveillance capacity is quite serious. Just this year, it came out in the Wall Street Journal that building departments in the U.S. are contracting with the Russian space agency to obtain photos for enforcement purposes. I think that this computer monitoring is also geared to so-called citizen enforcement suits, for both pollution and zoning enforcement. People's lives have been destroyed by such suits. Logging in some national forests has come to a near halt. This year, citizen suit activists have begun bringing proceedings to stop all land activity in entire watersheds because the rivers fed by these watersheds are not up to federal standards.

Juggernaut of Agencies
The federal agencies which are part of the American Heritage Rivers program are the Departments of Agriculture (which includes the National Forest Service), Defense (which includes the Army Corps of Engineers), Justice, Interior (which includes the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service), Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, the Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation, and the President's Council on Environmental Quality. The Corps of Engineers is evolving into the lead agency, for some reason. I have noticed that the Department of Defense is heading and providing headquarters for a Pennsylvania Heritage area program for logging heritage. These thirteen agencies form the American Heritage Rivers Interagency Committee. I think that these agencies, especially the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the EPA, and the Corps of Engineers, will become a juggernaut of enforcement of federal regulations and that, with their state contacts, will even enable state environmental enforcement to be more effective and harsh.

The 1998 Designations
On July 30, following the recommendations of an advisory council of typical participants such as the key environmental groups and political figures from particular heritage areas, President Clinton made the first ten designations at West Jefferson in Ashe County on the New River in Virginia, near the borders of West Virginia and Kentucky. It was widely noted that President Clinton chose that location because he could simultaneously stump in Raleigh for Democrat John Edwards who is running against one of Clinton's most outspoken opponents, North Carolina Senator Launch Faircloth.

The first ten rivers are the Hudson, the Mississippi from St. Louis north, the Connecticut, Rio Grande in Texas, Potomac, New River in three States, Detroit River in Michigan, Hanalei in Hawaii, St. John's in Florida, and the Willamette in Oregon. Movement has already started toward adding the rest of the Mississippi, the Susquehanna and Lackawanna watershed and certain rivers in Massachusetts.

The Hudson, Connecticut and northern Mississippi Rivers could potentially make up so much area that it's hard to imagine that selection of grants would be narrowed. It is impossible to know how much area on each side of a river will be included. When I led a contingent of national grassroots property rights leaders to interview Katie McGinty in June 1997, and we asked her this question, she made the odd statement that a watershed varies in its definition. Since a watershed is a scientific term defining geography, this was surprising. But her non-answer did reveal that the designation could be wider than the usual county width for Heritage areas.

I have spent about nine years exposing such designations, including those involving the UN. This one has the noxious characteristics typical of the thinking of the internationalist crowd who not only think of local government as their tool but also think that way of state and the U.S. government.

These are practical matters affecting people today, however. To return to my New York State example, nobody is going back to Congress to ask to repeal the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act because in 1998 a little town of Coxsackie in New York is worried about the LWRP zoning for the entire town. Five, ten or twenty years from now the layers of bureaucracy implementing facets of the American Heritage Rivers program will become unfathomable. Law enforcement is confusing enough today. Federal, State and local law overlap to regulate wetlands, for instance.

During the founding period of this nation, the founders did not want amorphous layers of government whose responsibility for particular impacts was disguised or unclear. They decided that the federal government should rule directly where federal powers applied, rather than coerce the states to pass laws. Today, people have trouble knowing the source of rules regulating their lives. I can describe how federal flood insurance law is carried down through the federal government to the state to the local enforcer, but can one of 100 citizens do this?

The courts have not held that federal incentives to pass state or local laws are unconstitutional, but I believe that these incentives result in a wrongful blurring of responsibility. I think that the same lines of reasoning that argue against the federal government compelling states to regulate apply to the federal government offering or withholding financial aid to persuade States to regulate.

In 1992 when New York blocked the United States government from forcing the State to adopt its own nuclear waste, the U.S. Supreme Court said,

"… where a Federal Government compel states to regulate, the accountability of both state and federal officials is diminished. "(1)

People who have the frustration of dealing with this shuffling of responsibility when federal incentive programs are carried out at the local level do indeed currently experience lack of accountability.

In opposing the American Heritage Rivers program, we have to fight on the basis of an undefined program. We can argue against the American Heritage Rivers program
(1) on the basis that the reasons offered for the program—grants and alleviation of regulatory problems—are not a logical explanation for it;
(2) on the basis of experience with other pre-zoning programs and seeing how pre-zoning designations pan out;
(3) on the basis of who the program's advocates are and what they have been broadly seeking;
(4) on the basis of the involved agencies and how they have already negatively affected private property rights and local representative government and;
(5) and on the basis of the description of the program.

There is no American Heritage Rivers program description which says in the regulatory language normally promulgated that party A writes the grant terms, party B finds the grants for interested entities, and party C sets the terms for modifying local laws and effectuating certain programs in order to get the grants or the regulatory relief.

On another note, there is certainly no party D who holds hearings and lays out the economic implications of the specifics of the program under the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA.

Published descriptions of the program do not spell out how the environmental preservation groups plan to utilize the computerized state of the river information.

There is nothing in writing that spells out how agencies will be more effective. It is supposedly just better internal management. And other agencies say that GIS is supposedly non-threatening.

In opposing the program, as we did in opposing the Congressional program, we argue most simply that the American Heritage Rivers program is a very large scale attempt to impose national zoning. It is a part of a long pattern of unsuccessful and successful steps to impose federal control of land-use. The 1970's Jackson-Udall Congressional effort at national zoning was defeated, but many subsequent programs with great effectiveness at such federal control of land-use are in place — wetlands and endangered species protection being the most far-reaching.

What To Do
We now have the program on the books. It is up to us to see that its effectiveness goes the way of the Jackson-Udall effort at national zoning — down to defeat. Let the American Heritage Rivers plan fail, just as the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve has, even though enacted. Two years ago the U.S. Department of State bemoaned the fact that, as they call it, a small vociferous minority of property rights activists, have kept the committee from implementing the program.

There is much to do to defeat the effectiveness of the American Heritage Rivers program:
1. About 120 rivers were applied for and 32 considered for the pre-final list. Ten were selected. Use these lists. To stop future designations, we need to convince Congressmen to send written letters in opposition, which are, according to sworn testimony, to act as a veto for any designation for their district.
2. When new designations are proposed and for those that have been proposed already but not designated, we need to pressure for local hearings.
3. For those designations already in effect, at the organizational stages, we need to also pressure for local hearings — for the river navigator appointment and the structuring of programs in any river, etc. The administrator for each river is supposed to be merely assigned this function as river navigator in addition to his other federal duties.
4. An important and difficult task is to monitor all of the activities of the American Heritage Rivers program in any one designation. This might be a big project of several county farm bureaus or local chapters of the Eagle Forum. We need to monitor any new committees that are set up, including citizen advisory committees.
5. To emphasize what I pointed out earlier, please work together with others to persuade Representatives to co-sponsor Helen Chenoweth's bill, H.R.1842, to stop funding of the program.
6. Please work to oppose the Omnibus Parks bill, which is quietly developing behind the scenes in the House, to add new Congressionally designated Heritage Areas.
7. In addition, on a related effort to defeat the UN Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites, I would like to urge you to help us follow up on a very successful campaign so far to get S.2098, the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act, passed. This would require Congressional approval prior to these designations. We passed this bill in the House and it is now in the Senate. We need your help to obtain additional Senate co-sponsors.

In all your efforts at defeating these designations and blocking their effectiveness, it is important to point to the need to protect private property rights.

There is a great deal of information on the table, which is yours to take and use. Some of this information focuses on New York. No similar studies have been done in other states, but others have said that they consider that the Property Rights Foundation's New York studies have national significance and offer a broader geographical insight. Remember there are no government grants to do this research.

Thank you, Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum, for making your National Leadership Conference available to discuss these urgent private property rights issues.

(1) New York v. United States 120 L Ed 2d 120 at 145 (1992)

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