Since the mid 1980s, ALRA has been warning its members about UNESCOs (United Nations Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage programs, now 25 years old.
To date, 20 World Heritage sites and 47 Biosphere Reserves have been designated in the US. Despite the fact that almost 43 million acres have been designated as Biosphere Reserves in the US, the Interior Department operates this program without any legislative direction and no authorization from Congress.
The 1995 designations of Glacier National Park in Montana and the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico as World Heritage Areas, preceded by the 1989 designation of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as a Biosphere Reserve, were made with no public or Congressional input.
Federal agencies and non-governmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the National Parks and Conservation Association are using these designations to support their efforts to get rid of inholders, buy up private land, limit mining (they stopped the New World Mine in Montana and hundreds of new jobs by calling in the United Nations), oil and gas, tourism, grazing, logging, farming, and development. Example, ALRA helped lead the fight to defeat the 1990 Greater Yellowstone Vision Document.
The Interior Department and the National Park Service, which actually runs the programs, say they get their authority from treaties. In the case of World Heritage Sites, it is the Convention on World Heritage and was ratified by the Senate in 1972. As we said before, there is no treaty and no authorizing legislative authority for Biosphere Reserves.
A treaty can override acts of Congress. This means that despite legislation that is made with public input and many compromises, the Park Service feels it may ignore that legislation and any guarantees of property rights included in it by relying on the authority in a treaty which was completed with no public input.
By definition, Biosphere Reserves are to have a legally constituted core protected area of sufficient size and minimal human activity plus a buffer zone around the core where non-compatible uses are limited. In the case of the New World Mine, the UN recommended a 50 mile buffer zone after their inspection.
Congressman Don Young (R-AK) introduced the American Lands Sovereignty Protection Act late in 1996 and expects to reintroduce it in January. This bill would require Congressional oversight of federal agency actions involving World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves. Any "buffer zones" would have to be approved by Congress. The Young bill would preserve the sovereignty of the US over its own lands as well as state sovereignty and private property rights on surrounding non-federal lands before designations are made.
Readers should call their Congressmen at
to urge them to co-sponsor the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act when Rep. Young reintroduces it in January.