Conservation Sites in the West Threatened by Urban Growth

Posted on: July 21st, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


Written by Ti Hays

Ironwood Forest National Monument (Photo: BLM)

Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona (Photo: BLM)

In March, preservationists and conservationists cheered when President Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which includes statutory recognition for the National Landscape Conservation System. Overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Conservation System contains about 27 million acres of federal land set aside for the protection of cultural and natural resources by previous Congresses and former presidents.

However, a report released last week by the Sonoran Institute examining the effects of urban growth on the Conservation System tempers somewhat our enthusiasm over this recent legislative success. According to the report, urban centers in the West—in particular, Phoenix and Las Vegas—are rapidly swallowing up the areas that once buffered Conservation System units from development. In some cases, as at Ironwood Forest National Monument near Tucson, housing developments are literally popping up along the borders of areas designated for protection

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona (Photo: BLM)

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona (Photo: BLM)

A litany of other problems introduced or amplified by urban growth are also discussed in the report, including vandalism to cultural sites, illegal off-road vehicle use, trash dumping, and target shooting, and inappropriate recreation. In one notable example, BLM was forced to exclude motor vehicles from 55,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert National Monument after off-road vehicle users repeatedly strayed from designated travel routes and caused extensive damage to the sensitive desert environment.

Lastly, the report questions whether BLM can effectively respond to the “special challenges” posed by urban growth, given that many units of the Conservation System are managed on a shoestring budget and law enforcement rangers are responsible for patrolling an average of 200,000 acres.

What can be done? Well, for starters, the report recommends that Congress increase funding for the Conservation System to $75 million, which would allow BLM to hire additional staff and commit more resources to protecting Conservation System units from the effects of urban growth. The report also recommends that BLM educate local governments on the need to consider the effects of urban growth on Conservation System units when planning for development on adjacent land. Finally, the report recommends that BLM pursue a variety of mechanisms, including land acquisitions, conservation easements, and legislative measures, to limit or prohibit development on private and public land adjacent to Conservation System units.

As shown by the report, urban growth in the West presents BLM with a complex array of management issues that will increasingly challenge the agency’s ability to protect many units of the Conservation System. Whether the agency can meet that challenge remains to be seen, and will likely depend in large part on the willingness of Congress to provide the Conservation System with the necessary funding and resources.

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Ti Hays is the Public Lands Counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

A Victory for New Mexico's Endangered Mt. Taylor

Posted on: June 9th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments



Written by Ti Hays

Last Friday, in a highly anticipated decision, the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee unanimously voted to list Mount Taylor on the State Register of Cultural Properties. The decision ends for now a debate over Mount Taylor’s future that has divided the community of Grants and generated passionate appeals from those both for and against the designation.

When the Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni, the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation first nominated Mount Taylor to the state register in 2008, many people in northern New Mexico worried that the tribes would use the listing to halt development on the mountain. Others feared that the tribes had an even grander scheme in mind: the wholesale transfer of public and private property to tribal ownership.

In reality, none of those concerns had any basis in fact. What moved the tribes to submit the nomination was a legitimate desire to be consulted over activities that could harm or destroy one or more of the (literally) hundreds of thousands of cultural sites on Mount Taylor—a desire shared by all people who attach traditional cultural significance to a place or object.

The Committee's landmark decision is notable for several reasons. First, by virtue of the listing, Mount Taylor becomes one of the largest, if not the largest, properties ever listed in a state or national register. At 344,729 acres, the designation includes not only the summit and slopes of the mountain, but also its principal mesas: San Mateo, Jesus, La Jara, Horace, Chivato and Bibo. Each of these mesas constitutes a "guardian peak" to which each tribe attaches varying degrees of cultural significance.

Second, the Committee specifically addressed the concerns of private property owners, many of whom opposed the nomination, by allowing them to essentially "opt-out" of the designation. The Committee was careful to explain, however, that the decision to exclude private property, which makes up less than one fourth of the area within the boundaries of the designation, in no way affects the overall historic integrity of the mountain.

"The State Register nomination that was approved today clearly establishes this landscape as a Traditional Cultural Property worthy of protection and preservation" said Katherine Slick, State Historic Preservation Officer and director of the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division. "At the same time, the tribes have established in their nomination that private landholdings on the mountain no longer contribute to the elements that give Mount Taylor its cultural significance, and that the private property does not need to be afforded the protections provided by a State Register listing."

Finally, and most importantly, the listing secures to the tribes the right to consult with state agencies over projects on the mountain that require some form of state approval.

Whether the Committee will have the final say on the matter remains to be seen. Opponents of the designation have already signaled their intention to file a lawsuit challenging the decision. Should this happen, Mount Taylor may very well head down the long and uncertain path through the court system recently taken by another sacred mountain in Arizona—the San Francisco Peaks.

But for now, the mountain enjoys the protection of the state register. And the tribes that worked so tirelessly over the past two years to win this decision deserve an immense amount of credit, both for their willingness to disclose and discuss why Mount Taylor is important to them, and for their courage in the face of significant opposition.

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Ti Hays is the Public Lands Counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

New Threats to the Minidoka National Historic Site

Posted on: April 20th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Elaine Stiles

Entrance to Minidoka, 1944.

Entrance to Minidoka, 1944.

The Minidoka National Historic Site (NHS) in Jerome County, Idaho is a place with a hard past, and for the past few years, a pretty challenging present, too. Now a National Park unit, Minidoka was one of ten relocation centers for persons of Japanese descent during World War II. The National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the Minidoka NHS as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2007 because of threats posed to the site by construction of a 13,000 head factory dairy farm less than a mile away. The farm has the potential to ruin the visitor experience at Minidoka, flooding it with foul odors, dust, and pests. After a long local permitting process and subsequent lawsuit, the county granted the permit to construct the farm, though no building has begun. Late last year, the National Trust, a consortium of advocates for the historic site, and local property owners filed a lawsuit to stop construction of the farming operation on procedural and constitutional grounds.

Now the Minidoka NHS faces a new potential threat. A portion of a planned 500-mile, 500 kilovolt electric transmission line between Idaho and Nevada is proposed to traverse or run less than one quarter of a mile away from the NHS. Conceived of more than 20 years ago, the Southwest Intertie Project (SWIP) was granted a right-of-way through what is now the Minidoka NHS by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. (The BLM managed the land that is now the NHS before the designation.) The independent power company pursuing the SWIP is also considering alternatives to the existing right-of-way, some of which would place the power line a short distance outside the main entrance of the NHS. These massive power lines would greatly impact the integrity of the historic site and potentially affect interpretive planning.

The Minidoka NHS is a fledgling National Park unit. The site is still awaiting funding to realize the interpretive plans the Park Service and its partners, including former internees and their families, crafted after its designation in 2001. Minidoka has much to teach us about the story of Japanese Americans in our country, the American homefront during World War II, and perhaps most importantly, the history of civil liberties and human rights in the U.S. Recently, Congress recognized this importance by authorizing the Park Service to expand the bounds of the NHS to include adjacent resources and partially funding a national grant program to interpret, protect, and restore Japanese American confinement sites nationwide. Much work remains to be done, however, to protect Minidoka and its story against the ill effects of industrial agriculture and our ever-growing energy needs.

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Elaine Stiles is a Program Officer in the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.


In a ceremony held yesterday in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama officially signed the Public Lands Management Act of 2009.

Among the many important wins for preservation included in the final legislation's 1,300 pages and 160 provisions is the National Landscape Conservation System Act. Two and a half years in the making, this bill creates the first major system of U.S. public lands in nearly half a century. Named the National Landscape Conservation System, it is comprised of the best lands, waterways and cultural resources managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

"Attending the bill signing for the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 was the fulfillment of a dream that began in 2000 to create the Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System," National Trust for Historic Preservation Public Lands Policy Program Manager Denise Ryan said. "It is hard to describe my joy and relief at finally passing the bill after several years of hard work. Sitting in the beautiful and historic East Room of the White House while President Obama signed the bill, surrounded by the bill’s congressional champions, was marvelous."

For special coverage of the big day, check out the photos taken by Denise above, as well as the following excerpts from the inspiring remarks made during the signing ceremony.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's Remarks

Over the last two centuries, America’s best ideas for protecting our vast lands and open spaces have often arrived while our country has faced its greatest trials.

It was in the midst of our nation’s bloodiest conflict – the Civil War – that President Abraham Lincoln set aside the lands that are now Yosemite National Park.

It was at the dawn of the 20th century, with our cities and industries growing and our open lands and watersheds disappearing, that President Teddy Roosevelt expanded our national parks and set aside the world’s largest system of lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, the national wildlife refuge system.

And it was in the darkest days of the Great Depression that President Franklin Roosevelt put three million young Americans to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. They built the trails, campgrounds, parks and conservation projects we enjoy today.

In these moments when our national character is most tested we rightly seek to protect that which fuels our spirit. 

For America’s national character - our optimism, our dreams, our shared stories – are rooted in our landscapes.

We each have places we love. For me, it is the San Luis Valley in Colorado. It is the lands my family has farmed for five generations. The waters of the San Antonio River. The snows on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

As Americans, we are defined most by our people and our places. 

>> Read Full Text

President Barack Obama's Remarks

As Americans, we possess few blessings greater than the vast and varied landscapes that stretch the breadth of our continent. Our lands have always provided great bounty – food and shelter for the first Americans, for settlers and pioneers; the raw materials that grew our industry; the energy that powers our economy.

What these gifts require in return is our wise and responsible stewardship. As our greatest conservationist President, Teddy Roosevelt, put it almost a century ago, "I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."

That's the spirit behind the bipartisan legislation I'm signing today – legislation among the most important in decades to protect, preserve and pass down our nation’s most treasured landscapes to future generations.

>> Read Full Text

Visit to learn more about what the Public Lands Management Act of 2009 means for historic preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.


Watch it live!

Visit to watch a live stream of President Obama as he signs the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 into law.

Last Wednesday, a piece of legislation - which President Obama will sign into law in approximately one hour - was enacted called the Public Lands Management Act.

Why should you care? Clocking in at 1,300 pages and over 160 provisions, this is the largest conservation measure passed in over a decade, and it will protect innumerable areas that are rich in cultural and historic resources. Among those provisions is the National Landscape Conservation System Act. Introduced two and a half years ago, this bill congressionally establishes the Bureau of Land Management’s conservation system, which is comprised of 26 million acres of land in 14 states. It’s at these special places where one can truly experience the wild beauty of the American West.

In general, a lands bill of this size and scope takes about six years to pass through the ever-complicated process known as the United States Congress. To say we were ecstatic to get this one done in two and a half is the understatement of the century.

Now, unless you are a huge fan of the game of ping pong, the process to get something like this done may not be your cup of tea. The National Landscape Conservation System Act had a relatively typical start, with hearings and mark-ups in the appropriate committees of both chambers of Congress. It passed a stand-alone vote on the House side (see below for some fun tid bits about that adventure), and enjoyed wide support in the Senate. Then, it was packaged along with 159 other bills, and the game of ping pong (or hot potato, depending on how you look at it) officially began.

The legislation bounced back and forth between the House and the Senate at least six times. After a few rounds of this, my colleagues and I started feeling like Charlie Brown lining up to kick the football that Lucy would inevitably pull away. (How’s that for imagery?) However, with community support and the incredible leadership of our congressional champions, we made it through and got the field goal after all.

Looking back over the past three years, I will remember a lot about this campaign, but for now, here’s my top-five list:

5) The very start of the whole process when I was trying to convince colleagues that referring to the system as the “NLCS” was not going to help matters. See, I generally hate acronyms and I am not the biggest fan of baseball. However, if people insisted on wanting to discuss the National League Championship Series, I had to go with it, complete with a one-page fact sheet that was available upon request.

4) Working with National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe, a true mentor to me and a stalwart leader on this issue. Sitting behind him twice as he testified before both the House and the Senate committees was an amazing thing to witness.

3) Getting a stand-alone vote in the House of Representatives and then getting a terrible rule that allowed for six amendments to the bill, meaning seven votes for our team in one day. These amendments ranged from never funding anything that had to do with the System to exempting the entire state of Utah from it.

2) The real fun happened on a vote called a motion to recommit, which is generally the last chance the opposition has to kill a bill. In our case, it was on the right to bear arms in the System - a right that already exists, but a vote that can quickly divide Congress. After “lobbying off the floor” with our incredible team (this basically involves stakeouts to approach members on their way to vote), there was nothing left to do but head over to the Hawk and Dove (a Capitol Hill bar/institution) to watch the final vote come in. We won that day by only four votes, but the excitement and camaraderie was worth it.

1) Of course, the best memory of all is the final passage. After again “lobbying off the floor,” we were invited to House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn’s office in the Capitol. There, with all 30 of my colleagues assembled in an anteroom, we watched as the final passage vote succeed 285-140.

So, here we are with America’s newest conservation system, formally established with the force of law and the recognition of Congress. With this under our belt, we must now focus on ensuring that it is well managed, well funded and inclusive of the places rich in cultural and historic resources.

Let the games begin.

- Chris Soderstrom

Chris Soderstrom is a senior policy advisor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This afternoon at 3:00 PM EST, she'll be at the White House to watch President Obama sign the Public Lands Management Act of 2009 into law. Join her by catching a live stream at Also, stay tuned as we post our own pictures from the signing ceremony.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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