At hearings around the nation last month landowners spoke with a unified voice blasting the National Park Service's (NPS) proposed new regulations for its expanding National Natural Landmarks inventory of property targeted for government preservation. NPS alleged that the new regulations reformed the controversial program after a two year nation- wide moratorium and a report by the Interior Inspector General criticizing the programs' violation of landowners' rights.
In Maine, aides representing Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-ME), Sen. Cohen (R-ME), and Rep. Snowe (R-ME) joined landowners in opposing the regulations. The most pointed Congressional statement came from Sen. Mitchell, who stated that the regulations "do not contain adequate safeguards to ensure that the rights of landowners are fully recognized and protected" and "fall short of the promise made to me in writing by [Secretary Lujan] more than two years ago..."
Mitchell's comments paralleled others' objections to the lack of landowner consent for Landmark evaluations and designation as "nationally significant", to the use of non-NPS environmentalists as surrogates for the program, and to the refusal of the NPS to suspend existing Landmark designations. "Given past abuse, I see no reason to allow the NPS to delegate [surrogate] authority in the future," Mitchell said, and stated that the "potential violation of property rights ... is not inconsequential" for sites already designated.
Mitchell concluded, "I expect the NPS to produce final program regulations that (1) reflect the substance of the comments from citizens familiar with the abuses which have characterized the [Landmarks program]; (2) protect the property rights of landowners; and (3) are fully consistent with the assurances that have been provided to me and other members of Congress ..."
Landowners from Maine to Florida to California berated the NPS for its "double listing" system giving only the illusion of landowner consent, and for its misleading claims that Landmarks evaluations are not a first step towards park acquisition or other controls. In describing the actual nature of the program and its purpose, landowners read NPS "smoking gun" memos into the record, described the Federal abuse of landowners' rights in the name of science and preservation, and cited existing and planned restrictions affecting owners' of property declared to be "nationally significant."
NPS surrogates, such as The Nature Conservancy, who run the Landmarks program in the field through policy-making, evaluations and monitoring, avoided controversy by mostly shunning the open hearings, but a handful of badly outnumbered preservationist activists spoke on behalf of the NPS. In Washington, DC, Loretta Newman, a professional environmentalist lobbyist and former aide to Congressman John Seiberling of Cuyahoga Valley NRA infamy, argued that the requirements for landowner consent and notification should be further weakened, claiming that "either this is a government program or it is not ... These are not personal decisions for a private individual to make about a national heritage."
In Maine, environmentalist activist Richard Spicer, who has been both an employee of the NPS Landmarks program and a Wilderness Society lobbyist for the program, claimed to be representing only himself as he decried what he called the "intentional misinformation" of NPS critics "for narrow self interested purposes." Calling the landscape a "common inheritance," he urged a further weakening of landowner consent requirements and suggested publication in the Federal Register of sites claimed to be "nationally significant," but whose owners object. He supported the National Parks and Conservation Association/Wilderness Society position, most of which NPS has already adopted.
NPS Regional Coordinator Michael Gallagher said in Indiana that owners of property in Illinois which received nationwide TV coverage for a controversial state condemnation justified by an NPS Landmark evaluation had nothing to worry about because NPS had put the Landmark nomination in the "inactive file."
Members of the National Park Service Advisory Board monitored the hearings with mixed reactions. Written comments on the new regulations are due by Feb. 19.
[For more information on the Landmarks program see the Fact Sheet in this issue. - ed]