LAND MANAGEMENT PLANS AND NATIONAL HERITAGE AREAS
National Heritage Areas are federal jurisdictions designated by Congress. There are 55 National Heritage Areas in the United States, with more currently seeking approval by Congress. If you were to do an internet search for information on National Heritage Areas, you are not likely to get past the feel-good press descriptions produced by the National Park Service. You will notice that all 55 National Heritage Areas sound just like the National Park Service though; they claim to be independent of the National Park Service and the US Department of the Interior.
Like all other federal land jurisdictions, National Heritage Areas come with federal Land Management Plans. Land Management Plans are not created until after the map has been created and signed into law.
Above map of National Heritage Areas found on the National Park Service website
The Misuse of Eminent Domain to Expand National Parks and Monuments
The National Park Service and Department of Interior are quick to point out that President Ronald Reagan created National Heritage Areas. They are correct and it was the result of a compromise. For more than 10 years throughout the 1960s and 70s, the National Park Service created inventory lists and used them to reach the goals of the Outdoor Recreation Review Commission of 1962.
As a direct result, the early 1970s saw an explosive use of eminent domain to expand or build national monuments, parks, trails, wild and scenic rivers, and wilderness preserves. In October of 1976, Congress further empowered the Department of Interior by passing the 1976 Organic Act.
The Sagebrush Rebellion
The property owners’ response to this federal growth in land management was known as the Sagebrush Rebellion. President Reagan made the Sagebrush Rebellion part of his election campaign, and the opinions of the public and Congress began to sour on the use of eminent domain for federal recreation. In 1984, when President Reagan signed the legislation for the first National Heritage Area, the country let out a sigh of relief for this new partnership that promised not to use eminent domain.
Pressing for Federal Control Via Creation of National Park Units
Brenda Barrett, Coordinator of National Heritage Areas for the National Park Service, has lobbied to turn the National Heritage Areas into National Park Service units.
The 55 National Heritage Areas are located mostly in the eastern half of the United States. If National Heritage Areas were to become National Park Service units, then federal land management would no longer be largely concentrated in western states. The entire state of Tennessee is in a National Heritage Area and would be subjected to federal government control if National Heritage Areas were made units of the National Park Service.
The people behind National Heritage Areas have misled lawmakers to push their agenda forward. They have told Republican politicians that President Trump supports National Heritage Areas and so, they should too. That is not true. They have also worked to influence Democratic politicians as well.
In the 2021 U.S. Government budget, President Trump sought to defund all National Heritage Areas. President Trump did end up creating more National Heritage Areas and renewed others as their legislation was attached to larger bills. He felt those bills needed to be passed and the NHAs got through as a rider.
At the same time, National Heritage Areas told Democratic politicians that a NHA is a good way to address climate change and end climate injustice.
Lack of Transparency About Public Support
The National Heritage Area group has been less than transparent about community involvement and approval. The group pushing National Heritage Areas has told members of Congress that the people in the communities impacted by NHAs are in full support of them. This is simply not the case. As the public has become aware of NHAs impacting their communities, they are taking action.
The National Park Service never talks about the opposition to these federal jurisdictions. Nor do they discuss the regulatory burden and takings that come with the federal Land Management Plans of National Heritage Areas. If a NHA is defeated, the National Park Service will act as if there was never any attempt at all. They tell everyone that no NHA has ever been opposed.
The National Park Service refuses to acknowledge the Canyons and Plains National Heritage Area Initiative for Southeastern Colorado. That NHA was discovered by ranchers in early 2013. The ranchers organized the Southeast Colorado Private Property Rights Coalition and began making property owners aware of the National Heritage Area Initiative. Eventually, the Canyons and Plains National Heritage Areas lost all support. They held their last meeting in December 2015, according to Norman Kincaide in “Scammed? Canyons and Plains National Heritage Area Initiative for Southeastern Colorado.”
Kansas – Nebraska
According to Freedom of Information Requests on the Kansas Nebraska Heritage Area Partnership, the property owners in that National Heritage Area designation were purposely left out of the conversation for 5 years. The public was only recently informed due to the efforts of a few citizens intent on building awareness in their community. By the year’s end of 2021, 45 of the 49 counties in a proposed National Heritage Area jurisdiction in North-Central Kansas, and South-Central Nebraska, passed resolutions to exclude their communities from the NHA proposed in their region.
Eastern Kansas – Western Missouri
Property owners in Eastern Kansas took notice of the public awareness and have been questioning if the land management changes in their area were the result of a federal Land Management Plan. Those who did question were shocked to discover that they too, fall within the federal jurisdiction of a National Heritage Area.
Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area was created in 2006. Twenty-nine counties in eastern Kansas and 12 counties in western Missouri are included in that federal jurisdiction. In response, county residents began passing resolutions to exclude their lands from the National Heritage Area like the residents in Kansas and Nebraska are doing.
On May 19th, 2022, Neosho County, Kansas, became the 7th county to pass a resolution wanting out of Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.
Florida property owners have discovered yet another proposed National Heritage Area attempting to create federal jurisdiction over private property in the Florida Panhandle. The general assumption is that the NHA designation will pass in the Florida Panhandle. Even the property rights advocates are expected to embrace this jurisdiction as an extension of the many favored tourist designations found in Florida.
In Montana, the Big Sky National Heritage Area proposal continues its insistence on creating a federal jurisdiction despite the overwhelming opposition of organizations, property owners, and the Montana State Legislature.
Lack of Compliance – Above the Law
The groups behind implementing National Heritage Areas are continuing their pursuit to create more areas and partnerships with the National Park Service. The National Park Service has not given up the desire to covet land through National Heritage Areas. These are being pursued despite the law which requires that NHAs must be wanted by the communities within their jurisdiction.
Many of the property owners within the National Heritage Areas are still waiting for the National Park Service to fulfill their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Property owners in Montana submitted their request for information to the National Park Service on the Big Sky National Heritage Area more than a year ago and are still waiting for that information.
Since the Department of Interior is tasked with implementing the goals outlined in President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis At Home and Abroad; it appears that the National Park Service is no longer simply ignoring the law, they are acting as if they are now above the law.
Inventory List Document HERE
Outdoor Recreation Review Commission of 1962 HERE
1976 Organic Act HERE
1984 First National Heritage Area Language HERE
2021 US Government Budget HERE
Link to Norman Kincaide Book HERE
List of Kansas Counties with Passed NHA Resolutions HERE
Link to Florida Website Opposing NHA Designations HERE
Article About Montana Pushback to NHAs HERE
Link to Language to Montana House Bill 554 HERE
Link to President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad HERE
Information about National Heritage Areas found on the US Department of Interior website HERE
Link to National Heritage Areas maps on the National Park Service website HERE
Additional information about National Heritage Areas and UNESCO sites HERE