For Immediate Release
May 28, 1999
Biosphere Reserve designations are a long-term threat to private property rights and rural communities, explained Carol LaGrasse, testifying before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Forests and Public Lands Management in Washington, D.C., on May 26.
The 47 Biosphere Reserves in the U.S. have been designated through the U.S. Department of State and the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, without knowledge or scrutiny of local or state government, or Congress. The American Land Sovereignty Protection Act (S.510) sponsored by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R, Col.), would repeal the existing Biosphere Reserve designations and require that the Biosphere Reserve Designations and U.N. World Heritage Sites be ratified by Congress before being designated in the future.
"Although Biosphere Reserve proponents deny the impetus toward more regulation, the examples disproving their arguments are numerous," said Ms. LaGrasse, the president of the Property Rights Foundation of America. She joined three other private individuals, two federal officials and Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Id.) testifying at the invitation of the Subcommittee Chair, Senator Larry Craig (R, Id.). Ms. LaGrasse gave examples from official U.S. Department of State documents and the writings of environmental groups to substantiate her nine years of observations of how the innocent-sounding designations are used to foster strict land-use regulation.
Ms. LaGrasse also pointed out two examples of Biosphere Reserves abroad being used to depopulate the area and close down the economy, the Mexican Highlands Biosphere Reserve to protect the monarch butterfly and the Wolong Biosphere Reserve in the Tibetan Plateau to protect the panda.
At the hearing, two court cases were pointed out where environmentalists recently used Biosphere Reserve status as an argument to try to block timber harvests. In 1998 an environmental group brought a lawsuit to block a harvest in the Land Between the Lakes area owned by the TVA in Kentucky. In 1993 four environmental groups sued a private owner near Icy Bay, Alaska, to stop his logging.
One of the witnesses at the hearing, Steven C. Borell, the Executive Director of the Alaska Miners Association, testified that international environmentalists have used World Heritage Site status to block the New World Mine near Yellowstone Park; the Jabiluka mine adjacent to Kakadu National Park, Australia; and the Aginskoe Gold Project on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East.
A telling discussion of the three Biosphere Reserve zones occurred at the hearing. The subcommittee had displayed an enlarged diagram of the "Core," "Buffer" and "Transition" zones. Sen. Campbell asked Donald J. Barry, the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Dept. of Interior, what were the meanings of the three zones.
After having just given extensive testimony as to why he was "mystified" that the designations are considered threatening, he replied, "I confess, I'm not a Biosphere Reserve kind of guy. I've never seen that before. Where is it from?" Sen. Craig then read the credit off the bottom of the display, that it was reproduced from the U.S. Department of State Man and Biosphere Reserve Publication No. 10169.
The other government witness, Melinda L. Kimbell, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, said that the zones were to define "unique and contiguous areas." She said, "The broad area is contiguous ecosystem" where there are "impact areas" and that the Biosphere Reserve "will get all stakeholders involved."
As part of her testimony shortly afterwards, Ms. LaGrasse briefly described the three zones and asked why the State Department had been allowed a free hand to designate land as the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve for goals that were so inconsistent with current uses of the land.
Quoting official State Department documents, she said that the core area (all the State-owned land in the Adirondack Park) is for ecosystems "unimpeded by human intervention"; the buffer zone (all 3 million acres of private land in the Adirondack Park) for environmental research and education, traditional land-use such as hunter-gatherers and limited recreation and tourism; and the transition (a zone surrounding the Park) for an "ever expanding cooperation zone" which may have "settlements, fields, pastures and forests... in harmony with the biosphere reserve."
Sen. Campbell remarked at the irony that the non-government witness was the only one to simply explain the Biosphere Reserve zones imposed by the State Department.
Ms. LaGrasse pointed out that the most important argument against continuing to allow the Administration to unilaterally make these designations is that they create an atmosphere for the future.
"The designation of a Biosphere Reserve or World Heritage Site adds an overlay of almost a spiritual quality, a sense of the significant, which generates a movement toward preservation and a sense that modern home life, normal farming, forestry, mining, industry and commerce are somehow incongruous," she said.
A similar measure to the Senate's American Land Sovereignty Protection Act had 183 co-sponsors and passed the House of Representatives by voice vote on May 20 (H.R.883).
Rep. John Sweeney (R) of upstate New York, whose district includes part of the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve, offered a successful amendment which received 407 votes, requiring that the designations may not affect state and local revenues, including public education programs.
Property Rights Foundation of America is a Stony Creek, N.Y.-based grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to the defense and enhancement of private property rights as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
CONTACT : Carol W. LaGrasse