LEAKED USFWS MEMO CRITICIZES REFUGE
ACQUISITION AND DISHONEST AGENCY PR
PLANS FOR FEDERAL
TAKEOVER OF CANAAN VALLEY REVIVED
This research article was originally published in The Land Rights Letter 1994.
Copyright © 1994; Erich Veyhl, All Rights Reserved
Another leaked internal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) memo, this time critical of agency land acquisition plans and a duplicitous PR campaign directed at local residents and property owners, has begun to receive widespread news coverage.
A leaked confidential Dec. 6, 1993 memo from Refuge Manager Gene Hocutt to the Region 5 headquarters in Massachusetts discusses "two sets of problems" with a planned new Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia: an excessively large acquisition boundary with "no justification," and "misinformation presented... to local people and officials" in which stringent Federal policies on land use restrictions in a Refuge have been vastly underestimated [see excerpts at end]. Full memo (pdf) (link added 12/22/14)
The Refuge plan seeks eventual acquisition of 24,000 acres comprising most of the Valley, affecting hundreds of private landowners and a recreation- dependent economy. The Valley is an established rural residential and recreational area well-known for skiing.
In a February four-page damage control memo called by the agency an "Outreach Narrative", USFWS Regional Director Ronald Lambertson, says the leaked Hocutt "memorandum was unsolicited and is too contentious to be worthy of any meaningful consideration" and told a reporter that it is a "professional disagreement."
Hocutt's fourteen page memo was leaked by another USFWS employee, adding to growing signs of USFWS employee discontent and attempts to expose agency corruption to the public. LRL [3,4/94] recently reported on a similar public expose' by former Regional Office employee William Moran. Moran said he was fired as a result of his attempts at internal reform and, contrary to the intent of the Whistle Blower's Act under which he had sought protection of his civil rights, has been subsequently pressured by alternating bribes and threats to force his silence.
Hocutt, too, has been put under severe pressure and was apparently forced to publicly recant. According to inside sources he was brought to the Regional Headquarters and personally chastised for his memo. An AP story and local news reports quote Hocutt as saying recently that public reports on his memo have "taken [it] out of context." Contrary to his original lengthy, unequivocal memo (see side-bar for excerpts), he said of the Refuge plans, "I think the direction chosen, looking at all the options, is the best one."
But Hocutt, who had been involved in planning the new Canaan Valley Refuge, wrote in the leaked memo that "there is no justification for acquiring expensive, grossly disturbed lands in the southern end of the valley... we are in a new day of funding deficits, image problems, and perhaps most importantly, new and tough compatibility standards... we simply can no longer buy and try to administer non-essential lands just because they are available, or someone will sell them to us."
The Hocutt memo describes a policy he said was agreed on over a year ago in the Regional Office that would "avoid acquisition of small, discrete units in the developed southern valley," but says that Regional biologist/planner William Zinni instigated a "new policy unilaterally promulgated which stated that we would '...acquire land anywhere in the Valley'... I was simply told by Zinni that the Regional Director had agreed with their proposal and it was a 'done deal'!"
Hocutt also refers to a strategy to isolate and pressure a recalcitrant landowner of a large tract on the northern end of the Valley. "The strategy," he wrote, "was designed to encourage the political and organizational folks, and all of the other well-connected 'hangers-on', to place steadily increasing pressure on the power company to come to some reasonable terms regarding their lands."
ANOTHER "CUYAHOGA VALLEY"
PLAN RESURRECTED AFTER 15 YEARS
Not mentioned in the Hocutt memo was that Zinni's 24,000 acre plan was based on a 1979 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) -- which the agency insists is still legally valid and current -- for a previously controversial plan to take over the Valley. The agency's preferred "alternative" in the Final EIS advocated acquiring"through negotiations and/or condemnation, full fee title to about 28,000 acres within the Valley... This approach is the optimum for wildlife resource and ecosystem preservation... All existing developments and residences would be removed exclusive of those necessary for refuge operations. Current residents, businesses, and farms would be provided relocation assistance to areas outside of the Valley..."
The EIS's "proposed action" included a phased approach which would condemn land, but "exclude from initial acquisition efforts, all improvements (residents, barns, business, etc.). No private landowners will be involuntarily displaced... A full array of reservations, life uses [methods by which the government takes title to the property but allows the owner to remain as a tenant], and easements [which prohibit building] will be offered... Condemnation will be utilized only where a proposed land use would conflict with refuge objectives," [i.e., the agency chooses its criteria for condemnation].
Whether the agency uses mass eminent domain following the model of the Cuyahoga Valley or opts for a slower approach in which owners of undeveloped land are coerced to sell, other human activity deemed by the agency to be "incompatible" is stopped and the local private economy eventually dies, the end result of eliminating people from the Canaan Valley has been clearly staked out. The EIS acknowledges that:"Social and economic impacts to Tucker County would be severe. Approximately 160 [at the time] residents and all businesses would be relocated from the Valley" and "existing residential development in Canaan Valley will be impacted as relocation occurs after purchase, easements, or life use reservations expire. Ultimately, most residential, industrial and commercial uses within the refuge boundary will be eliminated."
In a section entitled "unavoidable adverse impact", a published 1978 Draft EIS further acknowledged:"Transfer of lands from private to public ownership may represent a loss impossible to mitigate. Present construction of weekend, vacation and retirement homes in the Valley would be stopped... the aesthetic values associated with the Valley would not be available to those people desiring to dwell on permanent or part- time basis in the Valley. The psychological trauma associated with relocation will not be mitigated as a person has to leave an area where he may have spent a lifetime."
A June, 1979 comment from the (pre-Reilly/Browner) Environmental Protection Agency noted that the Draft EIS had only a few sentences to say about the impact on the people to be removed but"twelve (12) pages are devoted to identifying and describing fauna found in the valley. The lack of consideration for the human inhabitants of the valley, some with a family history of generations living on the same land indicates gross insensitivity."
The Final EIS toned down the language citing "trauma," but did not reverse the policy, admitting that"loss of privately owned lands that in some cases have been in family ownership for generations may present a psychological and cultural impact that cannot be mitigated through mere monetary compensation"
and"Landowners may have developed plans for future income producing development... This loss of opportunity for personal achievement and gain cannot be totally mitigated... Canaan Valley represents a natural and aesthetic resource of great value. This resource will be unavailable to potential future residents wishing to live there on a part time or permanent basis."
Several national environmentalist organizations also support the Refuge plan. The National Audubon Society, which is particularly active in lobbying for the Refuge today, wrote in a 1979 public comment that it "endorses with enthusiasm" the full Refuge proposal and urged that local opposition should be disregarded:"We realize that there is a considerable body of local opposition to the refuge concept. We suspect that much of this is the result of public relations endeavors by the Allegheny Power System and proponents of its Davis Power project."
and"Although we consider it important that the local citizenry be informed and that they have the opportunity to voice their concerns and objections to the refuge proposal and other alternatives, we do not mean to imply that the ultimate decision as to which course of action taken is theirs alone to make. The unique and diverse habitats of the Canaan Valley ecosystem have state-wide and national significance..."
NATIONAL NATURAL LANDMARKS
PLAYED ROLE AS FEEDER PROGRAM
That the government's plans to take over the Canaan Valley have been pursued continuously at least since the mid-70's, often without public knowledge, is further illustrated by the role of the National Park Service's National Natural Landmarks Program -- a feeder program for Federal control which the agency misrepresents to the public as "voluntary" and an "honor" to the landowner with no adverse consequences [LRL 2/91,2/92].
In 1974, prior to the Refuge EIA, the Park Service designated 15,400 acres of the Valley as a "nationally significant" Landmark without the consent of the landowners. Recent Landmark reports to Congress say that "because many privately owned tracts compose Canaan Valley, the likelihood of obtaining owner agreements for them all remains rather slim."
The Landmark program advocated Federal control of the Valley from the beginning. The Landmarks program comment on the Refuge proposal said in May, 1978 that a Landmark "Theme Study" "has recommended Canaan Valley as part of a larger unit... for study as potential new units of the National Park System."
The author of the Landmark Theme Study, environmentalist Charles Baer who was acting under contract to the Park Service, wrote:"My present assessment of the current situation is that an ace-in- the hole compromise endorsing the [USFWS] Glade Run [Refuge] alternative... and the Natural Landmark as an ecological unit may be the best we can expect. The Wildlife Refuge-take-it-all alternative is in serious trouble politically... If there is any let up on environmental protection of the Canaan Valley it could be disastrous to all nature minded persons..."
Despite the potential for inclusion of the Valley in the National Park System, the Park Service deferred to the Refuge proposal. A Landmark report to Congress said that since USFWS"is in the process of preparing an EIS, it is recommended to support their actions... Listing the area as a potential Park Service acquisition at this time would probably be a duplication of efforts."
The Landmark program comment on the Refuge EIS concluded, "we strongly support the establishment of a National Wildlife Refuge."
The Landmark program's 1979 report to Congress on "Damaged and Threatened" Landmarks also urged acquisition for a Refuge, and annual reports to Congress have continued to cite the Refuge proposal, claiming that the Valley is "threatened" by a power project plan (killed years ago), by people's homes, and by recreation.
The recent Canaan Valley NWR Draft Station Management Plan prominently featured the Landmark designation as a justification for Federal control, as did the original EIS.
Pat Herlan, spokesman for Canaan Landowners Opposing Unnecessary Takings (CLOUT), a new citizen group seeking to protect the local economy and the rights of landowners, says that the remote rural community with a year-round population of less than 200, consists of "trusting mountain people" who have been unaware of the extent of the explicit threats posed by the Refuge plan. She says they were "thrilled" with the Landmark designation because they had been told by the government that it is an "honor," and were unaware of the program's role in promoting acquisition of the Valley for a Federal Refuge.
FEDERAL PLANS MOVING AHEAD
Herlan says that for the last three years USFWS officials have told local residents in a new public relations campaign how "lucky" they are to be honored as a National Landmark. They have played down the agency's power of condemnation and have given the impression to unsuspecting local residents that a new Refuge would not interfere with their fragile economy and way of life. Officials have avoided discussing Federal policies for condemnation of landowners who try to use their property for "incompatible" uses, and local residents have not been informed of how coercion is often used to turn landowners into "willing sellers."
The recent leaked Hocutt memo does not address the land taking issue directly, but emphasizes that agency officials have deliberately mislead local residents about the strict criteria for USFWS priorities and standards determining "incompatible" land uses. Hocutt again singles out biologist/planner Zinni -- who is also controversial in Maine for making false statements to the public and to Congress -- as instrumental in what he calls a deliberate deception [see side-bar].
Sen. Byrd (D-WV), who along with Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) has supported a Canaan Valley Refuge for 20 years, has secured $2 million to begin acquisitions and according to Herlan, the agency has begun by arranging for maximum possible appraisals through artificial subdivisions to entice the first landowners into selling.2108 The confidential Hocutt memo, the Regional Office "Outreach Narrative" response, and other background material is available from the LRL archives.
EXCERPTS FROM GENE HOCUTT MEMO
"A large amount of misinformation has been presented by service spokespersons to local people and officials about Service priorities for consumptive and non-consumptive public uses...
"The result of all of the misinformation is that Tucker County residents have confused and/or erroneous opinions about what we do and why we do things as we do on refuges. This situation has occurred because our spokespersons during the past three years have avoided discussing compatibility issues and in some instances actually provided erroneous information. I personally believe avoidance of the compatibility issues was deliberate. A typical response to questions with clear-cut negative compatibility ramifications has been '[The] refuge manager has the final say, but we look at these things on a case by case basis and try to work with the local people'...
"We have not treated the locals very well during the past three years... the new, tougher compatibility standards that are just now coming on line [due to the Interior Dept. settlement with Audubon, LRL 3/94] will rule out just about everything our spokespersons have 'assured' during the past three years...
"... our spokespersons (and a few other involved/interested attendess) did not want me to talk about these issues because they might threaten 'local support' for the refuge. This was actually stated to me on several occasions...
"I do view their actions as being callously opportunistic and deliberately misleading in a single-minded effort to tell whomever whatever they wanted to hear in order to build and maintain support for the refuge proposal...
"We have a major credibility problem. I do not envy the refuge manager who has to go into CVNWR and explain to all of the local people and officials that Santa Claus in not in town -- and that, in fact, the refuge will be administered under the tenants and policies of the NWRS. I believe that the damage done with this misinformation campaign is potentially the equivalent of the mistakes that were made when the Canaan Valley State Park was established. To this day, local people despise the park as being the product of 'outsider' liars. Just wait until we try to rein in the expectations created during the past three years -- and we're a damned sight more restrictive than Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls State Parks! And now, folks, we have new compatibility standards for you!"
Last Update: 12/22/14