Property Rights Foundation of America®

Testimony in Support of S. 510
The American Land Sovereignty Protection Act

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

Subcommittee on Forests and Public Land Management
United States Senate
May 26, 1999

I am the founder and president of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., a Stony Creek, New York-based organization dedicated to the defense and enhancement of private property rights as guaranteed in the United States Constitution. I am also a retired Stony Creek town councilman and a licensed professional engineer (a retired civil engineer), having spent some years in the environmental field.

I am opposed to the designation of U.N. Biosphere Reserves and would like to see that all existing designations be repealed because they are used to precipitate extreme regulation and non-use of private land, apparently, in order to depopulate the Biosphere Reserve regions.

Local history
Stony Creek, where I reside, is located in the Adirondack Mountains within the UNESCO Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve.

It was precisely in the middle of my nine-year tenure on the Stony Creek Town Board when the U.N. designation took place in 1989. Neither our Congressman Jerry Solomon, our other federal and state representatives, nor our town board, nor anyone else I know, either officials or private citizens, had heard about the nomination before it was approved in Washington, D.C., and Paris.

The application for the Biosphere Reserve designation was secretly submitted to the U.S. Department of State by the locally despised, Governor-appointed regional zoning bureau, the Adirondack Park Agency, which controls land-use over a region of six million acres.

The Biosphere Reserve designation was revealed in fine print in a 1990 set of recommendations by the Commission on the Adirondacks in Twenty-first Century to bring about more onerous regulations over the three million acres of private land in the Adirondack region. The Commission was chaired by Peter A. A. Berle, then president of the National Audubon Society. As a young State Assemblyman in 1973, Berle had been very instrumental in the passage of the Adirondack Park Agency law. George Davis directed the Commission's actual study and recommendations. He is a New York environmental planner who cut his teeth on the original study that precipitated the Adirondack Park Agency law and since has practiced preservation planning internationally.

They recommended 2,000 acre per house zoning, the segregation into an isolated Adirondack division of each state bureaucracy from welfare to police, the retroactive screening or removal of houses that were visible from highways, the combining of the two strictest zones comprising 87% of the private land into one new more restrictive land use category called "back country," the government acquisition of another two-thirds million acres of land and many other schemes to increase the power of the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) that would have foreclosed the future of the region.

Over the next few years of study and observation I came to the inescapable conclusion that Biosphere Reserves and anti-human reports like this are in perfect sync, designed by the same individuals to depopulate the region, while sugaring over their goals with fancy planning terminology and guaranteed-to-fail pretenses of social and economic concern.

After the Twenty-first Century Commission's report in 1990, quiet local people from rugged loggers to elderly grandmothers were so outraged by the recommendations that they staged two motorcade protests which blocked traffic on the Interstate between Albany and Montreal. My husband and I conceived a lawsuit against the Governor's use of taxpayer funds to promote a "yes" vote on the bond act that would have funded the land acquisition. The environmentalists later placed great blame on this lawsuit for the defeat of the bond act . In the Adirondacks, townspeople voted 16:1 and even 20:1 against it.

The Transition Zone
The final three of 245 Twenty-first Century Commission recommendations were for a "Transition Zone."

The final recommendation stated:

"The Park transition zone boundary should coincide with town boundaries and include the entire New York State portion of the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve, the Adirondack Boundary Rivers Tourway, and land bridges for wildlife movement between the Park and the Tug Hill region, Vermont and Canada." (emphasis added)

The Commission also foolishly circulated a land acquisition map, which furnished ammunition for protests. The map precisely showed the proposed "transition zone," which generally followed the Biosphere Reserve boundaries, which appear to be schematically, rather than strictly, defined.

Word of the transition zone and the Biosphere Reserve designation got around. Local people did not know what the Biosphere Reserve was about, but people in the two nearby cities of Plattsburgh and Glens Falls who heard of the "transition zone" didn't like being included in anything related to the Adirondack Park.

The plan to add more Adirondack rules was rejected but the U.N. designation was already in place. At the time I was writing for a newspaper, the Adirondack Journal. A revealing interview transpired when I covered a confrontation over the State's closing of an old highway, Crane Pond Road. College students had come in cars with license plates from several other states to protest against use of the road. Local residents were facing them off. I asked the out-of-towners why they were there. A young woman replied that she had come to defend the U.N. Biosphere Reserve.

"Research and Education" agenda double teams with preservationists' campaigns for more land-use regulation
Environmentalists who supported the Twenty-first Century Commission recommendations insisted that the Biosphere Reserve designation was for education and research only. Indeed, my research found that the MAB (Man and Biosphere) program as it was described in the U.S. Department of State documents and the intellectual journals up through the early 1990's was directed toward research and education.

But something else was going on simultaneously within the same sector of environmental leadership that was involved in the official Biosphere Reserve program. When these environmentalists would make a speech or give a televised interview they would point out that the international significance of the area, because it was a U.N. Biosphere reserve, was an argument for the Legislature to pass the strict Twenty-first Century Commission recommendations. At the same time, they did their best to keep the focus diffused. For example, when Ed Hood, the APA official who coordinates the Biosphere Reserve in New York was confronted, he misleadingly claimed that it had no connection to the plan to make stricter land use controls or to the "transition zone."

We embarked on a quest for information about Biosphere Reserves. It was difficult to find any information. A scientist in my family and a librarian friend in New York City who had access to journals published almost anywhere in the world were among researchers who helped my husband and me in a quest to find out what Biosphere Reserves were and what was the meaning of such vague related terms as "land bridges."

The year 1990 was a turning point in our life where we learned that the environmental movement we were active in civically and professionally for over twenty years was engaged in a surreptitious crusade to drive rural people off their land and to depopulate much of rural America. Once I saw the malevolence of the environmentalist leadership in carrying out these depopulation goals, especially through land designations, I felt compelled to put most of my life aside to work full-time to defeat these schemes.

Basic elements of Biosphere Reserve are hostile to use of land in Adirondacks
The education and research agenda for Biosphere Reserves turns out to be in a context that is hostile to human population and use of land. This can be understood from the seminal paper presented in 1987 at the Estes Park, Colorado, Worldwide Symposium on Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO program specialist Jane Robertson Vernhes of Paris, France, describing the ideal biosphere zonation - the core, buffer and transition zones.

1. Core Area

"The core area consists of examples of minimally disturbed ecosystems characteristic of the world's terrestrial or coastal/marine regions. A core area has secure legal protection, for example, as a strict nature preserve... Although natural processes normally operate unimpeded by human intervention, active human intervention, such as by prescribed fire or controlled grazing, may be needed in certain subclimax ecosystems to maintain the natural characteristics of the site."(1) (emphasis added)

Unsuitability of "Core Area" to the Adirondacks
In the Adirondacks, the core area would encompass the State-owned land but the core designation is inconsistent with:
• The continued existence of the many essential highways including existing interstate, state, county and town roads;
• The continued use of the vast State holdings for hunting, off-road vehicle use, cross country skiing and many other activities;
• The continuance of the system of improvements for some purposes, such as hiking, camping and boating; and
• Fire suppression.
• Disabled access under the Americans with Disabilities Act would be inconsistent with the core area.

It has become clear that some leadership of the environmental groups is opposed to fire suppression. In the Adirondacks the Adirondack Council obstructed fire prevention precautions after a major blowdown of 400,000 acres of State-owned forest.

2. Buffer Zone

"The second zone, the buffer zone, adjoins or surrounds the core area." Its outer limits correspond with those of a protected area such as a national park. Its function is to buffer the core from any harmful outside disturbance. The activities allowed "serve the multiple objectives of the biosphere reserve and can include basic and applied research, environmental monitoring, traditional land use, recreation and tourism, general environmental education, and specialist training."(2) (emphasis added)

These buffer area uses are basically non-uses of land except by environmental researchers who get the privilege of vacationing in the pristine surroundings. Of interest is the allowance for "traditional land use." The local population types listed on the standard Biosphere Reserve application form in 1994 were "agricultural," "artisanal," "fishing/shellfishing," "forest-dwelling," "hunter-gatherer," "nomadic," "pastoral," and, last, "urban or suburban."(3)

Unsuitability of "Buffer Zone" to the Adirondacks
The area of private land within the current Adirondack Park bounds was to be the "buffer zone." The variety of the 100-odd towns and villages, the many highways, and the variety of industries(4) in the region enclosed by the "Blue Line" are not consistent with the classification, yet it was accomplished amid a hostile push to severely regulate the private property in the region in ways that bring its management more in line with the buffer zone concept.

3. Transition Zone

The outermost ring of a Biosphere Reserve is the "transition zone." This is to be an "ever-expanding cooperation zone where the work of the biosphere reserve is applied to the needs of the local communities in the region." (5)

Unsuitability of "Transition Zone" to the Adirondacks
The transition zone designated for the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve includes cities and industrial centers, and is intensely in conflict with the official description of transition zones. Jane Robertson Vernhes' description, which agrees with official MAB (U.S. Department of State Man and Biosphere program) publications, states:

"The transition zone may contain settlements, fields, pastures, forests and other economic activities which are in harmony with the natural environment and the biosphere reserve. This zone of cooperation is particularly useful in helping the biosphere reserve to integrate into the planning process of its surrounding region."(6)

Adirondack planner in Russia
George Davis, the executive director of the defeated Twenty-first Century Commission plan for the Adirondacks, next went to Lake Baikal in Russia to set up a land use planning system there. He found it relatively easy applying his philosophy there.

In an interview late in 1990, he was quoted:

"Here we are used to people having conniptions over their land. But over there, they don't mind the land-use regulations because they are just getting their own land."(7)

George Davis also told the press about conducting public hearings on his land-use plans in Russia. But in the U.S. there were no hearings before his Twenty-first Century Commission plan was finalized or before the related U.N. Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve application was sent to the Department of State and UNESCO.

Need for secrecy
The secrecy of these applications is necessary because the Biosphere Reserve designations are basically hostile to the local people as property owners and as citizens in a representative government designed to maximize freedom. The two New York Biosphere Reserve applications made no bones about the fact that the designations are built around certain exceptional State-level land-use regulations, such as the Adirondack Park Agency law and the New York City Catskill watershed rules, and geared to bringing in more such regulations. These particular regulations were placed into law against the vociferous opposition of local people.

False arguments raised against the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act
A number of false arguments in addition to tactics otherwise discussed here should be addressed.

1. Setting up the strawman argument that Biosphere opponents misunderstand U.N. role
Biosphere Reserve proponents wrongfully argue that opposition misunderstands the U.N.'s powers. In this argument, the opposition is said to believe that the U.N. can currently and directly regulate government land and private property in the U.S. through the Biosphere Reserve program. By setting up the strawman argument that their opponents believe that Biosphere Reserve designation creates direct U.N. authority over internal American affairs, the environmentalists can attack opponents for their supposed misinformation.

But the informed opposition to Biosphere Reserve designations is not based on the fear of currently feasible, direct U.N. control over land-use within American borders. This deceptive argument distracts from the not-too-subtle point that Biosphere Reserve designation is a pre-zoning program which is intended by environmentalists as a device to stimulate more federal and state controls on private property.

2. The false claim that local people and local government are already routinely consulted before designation
This claim is false with respect to the Adirondacks and Catskills. During his testimony at the Tannersville, N.Y., field hearing of the House Resources Committee in May 1997, prominent preservationist Dr. Thomas Cobb was forced to admit that public input was sought only "subsequent" to the filing of the application for the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve.

3. The false argument that Congressional oversight will snatch the development of Biosphere Reserve programs away from localities into the "distant bureaucracy" of Washington, D.C.
Since open local participation does not take place now, no loss of this can be threatened.

The so-called "distant bureaucracy" is, indeed, the duly elected representative government of the people, the Congress, not bureaucracies like the U.S. Department of State and the National Park Service which run the program in conjunction with non-profit groups exempt from public scrutiny.

The Congress is the appropriate representative body to hold hearings, including field hearings, on Biosphere Reserve designations.

4. The false characterization of opposition to Biosphere Reserves as fanatically fearful of "One-World Government"
Many of the figures who lead and fund the environmental movement are advocates of policies that raise serious concerns about U.S. sovereignty. The policies have dishearteningly similarities with the Biosphere program.

But the danger to sovereignty does not have to be the immediate loss of our form of government for one to oppose the designation of Biosphere Reserves without Congressional approval. This is especially true of Biosphere Reserves, which have no treaty authorization, as opposed to World Heritage Sites.

Dr. Jeremy Rabkin of Cornell University stated this point effectively:

"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."(8)

Dangers of Biosphere Reserve designations
The dangers discussed below are largely presented in the context of Biosphere Reserve designations, but each objection equally applies to the designation of World Heritage Sites, which, like Biosphere Reserves, now seem to be flexibly bounded and expandable in respect to their power to regulate.

1. More regulation
Although Biosphere Reserve proponents deny the impetus toward more regulation, the examples disproving their arguments are numerous. For instance, the US MAB published Biosphere Reserves in Action in 1995. In the chapter on the Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve, it states,
"CABR designation helped persuade the U.S. Congress to pass the Lake Champlain Special Designation Act of 1990... The Basin Program has achieved many goals that CABR would have attempted. Its successes include bi-state cooperative regulatory review, establishment of uniform in-lake water quality standards, and coordination of an emergency response protocol.(9)

The MAB report points to the regional Northern Forest Lands Project for New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine

"to identify risks to 26 million acres of productive forest land and to develop protection strategies to ensure continuity of this regional resources. These and other projects will be building blocks of the BR program."(10)

The two programs described as "building blocks" are highly regulatory. The Northern Forest Lands project transmutes yearly. It started out in 1990 as the Vermont Senator's draft bill to establish a four-state federal zoning agency modeled after the Columbia River Gorge Commission and has been more recently active in Congress as a nebulous "Stewardship" bill, as land acquisition goals for a significant part of the one billion sought annually from the offshore oil drilling royalties under the Conservation And Reinvestment Act, and in campaigns by the Northern Forest Lands Alliance of 26 wealthy national and regional groups for forestry regulation and massive land preserves in New York and New England.

2. Depopulation
Reports from abroad

Key statements in scientific journals and internal MAB publications about Biosphere Reserves, which make crystal clear the intent at ultimate depopulation, are supported by reports of incidents at Biosphere Reserves abroad.

Mexican Highlands
The land-use planning group, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, reported in 1995 that peasants and woodcutters in the central highlands of Mexico had a big problem with a Biosphere Reserve for the monarch butterfly.

"In response to outside demands, vast areas have been incorporated into a biosphere reserve and logging has been banned. As hundreds of thousands of tourists delight in the spectacle of millions of over-wintering-monarchs, tens of thousands of local residents suffer the hardships of imposed idleness and poverty."(11)

Wolong Nature Preserve
Gordon Davis, an influential early Adirondack Park Agency figure, was invited to do land-use regulations for the Wolong Nature Preserve near the Tibetan Plateau by the People's Republic of China. Back in New York, he commented to the press that the Wolong Nature Preserve is a U.N. Biosphere Reserve. He told the Glens Falls Post Star that some of the 4,000 Tibetans who live in the reserve are having a hard time with the new government controls, which include plans to relocate the people, who have worked the land for hundreds of years.

"The panda and people are totally incompatible," Davis said, "The problem is similar to that in the Adirondacks," Davis said, speaking of "the resistance to government intervention."(12)

The vision of wildfires by a mainline environmental group for one U.S. Biosphere Reserve
One particular land management method advocated for the New Jersey Pinelands Biosphere Reserve is of relevance because it is antithetical to the continued human habitation of the area.

Andy Windisch, the "fire ecologist" for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a prominent environmental organization involved in developing and managing Biosphere Reserves and other preserves including various pine barrens, was quoted in a recent travel magazine complaining that controlled burns are inadequate to maintain vegetation he desires. The article, "Pinelands — A Region of Fires," conveyed an impression that uncontrolled fires had a romance to them.

In a discussion comparing the virtue of wildfire with the mild fires set and controlled by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service at present, he said that the Pinelands requires "more intense fires."(13) This is the first time to my knowledge that wildfire had been publicly advocated in the East, where, by the way, private property is intermingled with government-owned land.

3. Diffuse the sense of local representative government, obfuscate the citizens' sense of clear lines of governmental authority, and involve international influences in local land-use planning.
People do not understand the various levels of government and regional interactions at a government level which affect their personal rights such as the fundamental human right of private property ownership. The mere threat of intervention by an international authority undermines the citizens' respect for and confidence in government. The real exploitation of such international designations, such as was used in the Adirondacks to lobby to increase state zoning powers, is a bad-faith use of a scheme of high credibility to certain urban environmentalists to make government harder on rural people. One never knows whether it can happen, as in the New World Mine controversy in Yellowstone, that even the President or the U.N. will step in to stop a project because an internationally recognized site is in danger. All of these Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites diminish the confidence of people in the justice and responsiveness they can expect from government.

4. Create an atmosphere for the future
The most important argument against continuing to allow the U.S. Department of State and the Secretary of Interior to unilaterally make these designations of Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites without review and approval by Congress, is that the designations create an atmosphere for the future.

Like any prominent honorary recognition, but more so because it is backed by the multi-billion dollar U.S. environmental lobbying force, 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. Our freedoms and our economy, both in rural America and nationally, are being damaged by this cultivation of the irrational impulse toward nature. The long-term impact of this atmosphere is unknowable. The Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site designations, in cultivating this atmosphere, can ultimately have momentous impact, which is inhospitable to the rural life and toward our country's tradition of representative local government and private property ownership.

The fact that once the cloak of secrecy is lifted Biosphere Reserve designations cannot be implemented and applications must be withdrawn, (14) argues heavily against the acceptability of these designations to American citizens. Congressional scrutiny is essential to open up the U.N. Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site nomination process so that the decision of whether to designate these sites is made on the basis of representative government, not by secret elites.
In 1983, the Congress rejected the Biosphere Reserve bill, H.R. 2379. Not only do the Biosphere Reserves serve unconstitutional purposes of undermining local and state representative government and constitutionally protected private property rights, but it is unconstitutional that the rejected 1983 bill, and more, are being implemented by administrative fiat.

I urge you to support the important bill, the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act, to repeal existing Biosphere Reserve designations, eliminate secrecy accompanying all important internationally sponsored land designation programs, allow participation by representative government, and preserve private property rights.


(1) Jane Robertson Vernhes, "Biosphere Reserves - The Beginnings, The Present and The Future Challenges," Proceedings of the Symposium on Biosphere Reserves, MAB, Sept. 14-17, 1987, p9
(2) Vernhes, p9
(3) Biosphere Reserve Nomination Form, United States of America, Catskill Region Biosphere Reserve, December 16, 1994, p36
(4) Industries and other elements of the fragile local economy include logging, tourism, recreation, mining, manufacture of wood products and other products, commercial offices, prisons, hospitals, schools and colleges.
(5) Vernhes, p9.
(6) Vernhes, p9.
(7) Larry Maxwell, "Sent to Siberia," Glens Falls Post Star, November 18, 1990, pA5 (cf. p1)
(8) Dr. Jeremy Rabkin, Associate Professor, Cornell University, testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Resources, Sept. 12, 1996, on the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act.
(9) US MAB, Biosphere Reserves in Action - Case Studies of the American Experience (foreword by Dr. William Gregg), June 1995, p14
(10) Biosphere Reserves in Action, p14
(11) "Butterflies and Peasants: A Case Study for Sustainable Development in Mexico," Landlines (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy), May 1995, p7
(12) Larry Maxwell, "Sent to Siberia," Glens Falls Post Star, November 18, 1990 pA-5
(13) Unattributed article, "The Pinelands — A Region of Fire," Subaru Drive, Summer 1997, p 12
(14) The following Biosphere Reserves were defeated by local opposition: Voyageurs Biosphere Reserve (Minnesota - 1987), Catskill Biosphere Reserve (New York - 1995), Ozark Highlands Biosphere Reserve (Arkansas and Missouri - 1996).

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