National Natural Landmarks - Again!

R.O. Voight

August 05, 1999

The National Park Service (NPS) has quietly reactivated the National Natural Landmark Program effective 12 May 1999, via Federal Register, Part III, National Park Service, 36 CFR, Part 62, Final Rule.

The stated NPS purpose of the NNL Program is, "to identify the full range of geological and ecological features of nationally significant examples of the nation's natural heritage and to encourage their preservation. The Secretary of the Interior established the NNL program under the authority of the Historic Sites Act of 1935. Potential natural landmarks are identified in studies by the National Park Service and from other sources, evaluated by expert natural scientists, and if determined nationally significant, designated by the Secretary of the Interior. When designated, a landmark is included in the National Registry of Natural Landmarks, which currently lists 587 national natural landmarks nationwide”.

The NNL program became a public outrage in Maine in 1988. Several Washington County landowners discovered that a Landmark was being planned for the eighteen miles of coastline from Cutler to West Quoddy Head in Lubec. The Landmark was to be all along the coastline and 1,000 feet deep. This scheme was based upon a planned National Park from Machias along the coast to Robbinston, including the Machias Rivers. The eighteen mile strip had been surveyed by land and water, and none of the 100 landowners had ever been notified, nor had any ever given permission for their land to be evaluated (actually physically visited) by the schemers.

The Washington County Association was formed, and an investigation began. It was determined that this action had been under way since the early 1980's, and that a contract existed for this work between the Boston Region office of the National Park Service and a staff member of the State Planning Office. At the time it was discovered, the study was within three months of completion and then submission to the NPS for peer review and NNL designation.

The WCA went to the Office of the Governor and briefed his legal counsel on the facts learned to date: 1.) none of the landowners were notified of the survey; 2.) there was no plan to notify the landowners, nor ask their permission; 3.) there were 15 NNL's already designated in Maine, and none of the landowners contacted knew about the designation of their land. At the briefing it was determined that the Governor's Office was not aware of the NPS actions, and had no knowledge of the planned NNL from Cutler to Quoddy Head. The WCA asked the Governor to intervene in the entire Maine NNL program, since landowners' rights had been and were being violated, and to establish a moratorium in Maine for one year on any further action by the NPS.

It was determined that the NNL program involved penalties for the landowner if the specified Landmark on his land was degraded in any way. The NPS also had volunteers covertly inspect the Landmark annually to assure its pristine condition. Again the landowners had no knowledge of these covert inspections.

The Governor granted the NNL moratorium. Local citizens found out that the NPS had other plans for the Northern Forests of Maine. They then formed the Maine Conservation Rights Institute in March of 1990 to research the plans of the extreme environmentalists and to educate the citizens of Maine.

MECRI carried the NNL program outrages to the offices of Senator Cohen and Senator Mitchell. The NNL program was never specifically authorized by Congress, for, as stated above, the NPS used the Historic Sites Act of 1935, which Act had an entirely different purpose. Meantime WCA and MECRI had spread the word nationally about the NNL program. The Freedom of Information Act was utilized in their research. It was determined that there were 587 designated NNL sites, and 3,000 potential sites surveyed, peer reviewed, and all data stored in the NPS computers, ready for designation. The internal term the bureaucrats used for these 3,000 sites was "ladies in waiting”. The basic scheme and concept behind the entire NNL program was to create National Parks by "connecting the dots" created by each of the NNL's.

The result of the Senators' intervention was a national moratorium on all Landmarks, and an investigation of the entire program by the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior. The IG Report validated all of the WCA and MECRI research, and the NPS was directed to correct the program by respecting property rights, ask all of the 587 site landowners if they wished to be under the designation, establish a national public hearing review, and amend the program.

The public hearing in 1991in Bangor was dominated by the WCA and MECRI people, and especially by the strong testimony of Senator Mitchell. Senator Mitchell made three points: 1.) Written landowner consent must be obtained and regulations written to provide the landowner full knowledge of the entire process; 2.) Only NPS personnel should participate in this NNL process; 3.) All existing NNL's (587) should be temporarily suspended pending approval by the landowner of his willingness to participate (Re. IG Report). The other hearings across the country were also dominated by the WCA and MECRI as the material from the Bangor hearing, as well as a full video tape sent to the attendees of the other public hearings.

The fifteen Maine NNL's are: Bigelow Mountain, Somerset and Franklin Counties; Monhegan Island (all of its160 landowners); Meddybemps Heath, Washington County; Orono Bog, Penobscot County; New Gloucester Black Gum Stand, Cumberland County; Passadumkeag Marsh and Boglands, Penobscot County; Penney Pond, Kennebec County; Crystal Bog, Aroostook County; Gulf Hagas, Piscataquis County; Appleton Bog, Knox County; Colby-Marston Preserve, Kennebec County; Mt Katahdin, Piscataquis County; The Hermitage, Piscataquis County; No. 5 Bog and Jack Pine Stand, Somerset County; and Carrying Place Cove Bog, Washington County. We wonder if the 160 landowners on Monhegan Island know that they are an NNL?

The Park Service has a view of the environment that takes in a 50-to-100-year scope. They are willing to go slow, make no commitments, stand firm, and wait out the landowners. This is bureaucratic arrogance and government doggedness expressed in the belief of the absolute rightness of their view. Witness the 20 year stand against the landowners of Saddleback Mountain. The landowners have gone out of their way to try to satisfy the NPS, but it has never been enough. Now we have these three hearings in Rangeley, Bangor, and Portland in an attempt to placate public demand, but the landowners will still be denied.

Witness the NNL program. The NPS has waited ten years, and now quietly reactivates the program through the Federal Register. There was no public review of the draft document. A few of the demanded changes have been made. Senator Mitchell's demands were not met. The program has no specific Congressional Authorization. Their computers still contain the 587 designated sites as well as the 3,000 potential sites. We won't know if they have stopped the covert inspections until we catch them in the act as we did last time. Nor do we know if all the landowners have been notified that they have the right to have their property taken out of designation. This is government gone awry.

"Courtesy of Scott Fish, AsMaineGoes.com."