More international interference in land use regulations

by Erica Olsen

orty seven sites totaling an area roughly the size of Colorado have been designated part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s "Man and the Biosphere" program to date. Similar to a World Heritage site (mentioned in last month’s issue), a biosphere reserve is a federally-zoned and coordinated region consisting of three areas or zones that meet certain minimum requirements established by the United Nations. The inner or most protected area, the "core zone," is usually federal land and the two outer zones contain non-federal property, usually private land.

The purpose of designating an area a biosphere reserve is to protect the "core zone’s" natural resources while limiting activity and use of the area surrounding the "core" that might harm the environment in the "core zone." The government must oversee everything that occurs in each reserve. Specifically, it should "promote environmentally sound and economically sustainable income opportunities for local people and develop alternative means of livelihood for local populations when existing activities are limited or prohibited within the biosphere reserve," according to the Seville Strategy Statement which outlines the creation of this international program.

Naturally, people owning land in one of the 47 designated areas are voicing legitimate concerns over this program. According to various testimony regarding biosphere reserve designation, witnesses protested that they had not been consulted at all before land in their area was registered as a reserve. "Though such registration gives no clear legal authority to coerce private land owners, witnesses expressed fear that it would be used to bulldoze or steam roll local and state governments into exercising their regulatory powers for ill-advised measures favored by biosphere champions," according to Jeremy Rabkin’s The Yellowstone Affair: Environmental Protection, International Treaties and National Sovereignty.

At House hearings in September, citizens from the Catskill Mountain region of New York State told how they had mobilized to block the designation of their scenic region as a reserve, because of fear that the designation would be used in the end to impose unwanted land use controls. Other testimony was given by concerned citizens in designated areas in New Mexico, Missouri and Wyoming.

Their concerns are not unfounded. The program is set up in such a manner that land owners in the reserve area have no greater say than various interest groups about how the area is to be treated. The reserves are supposed to be "open-ended areas of cooperation, where managing agencies, local governmental agencies, scientists, economic interests, non-governmental organizations, cultural groups, local citizens and other biosphere reserve ‘stakeholders’ educate one another in the process of linking conservation, economic development and cultural values," according to the Biosphere Reserve Directorate which established the U.S. Man and the Biosphere Program adopted by the State Department from the UNESCO program.

Cornell University Professor Rabkin sites the following examples of how this program might work if fully implemented on an international scale. " For example, other countries could claim a ‘stake’ in the preservation of nesting sites for birds which migrate from an American biosphere to sites in those other countries. Or they might claim a stake in the preservation of American habitats for species that figure in their own ‘cultural values’ but no longer survive within their own borders. For instance, wolves and bears still figure in German folklore, but have largely disappeared from German forests. Should state of local officials in the United States then seek to protect the ‘stake’ of German wildlife advocates in American land use policies?"

As cited in the above testimony, an area can be designated a biosphere reserve without the consent of affected land owners. In other words, the federal government or the United Nations can decide how a certain area will be regulated under the guise of environmental protection for the good of the world community.

Biosphere reserves encompass a far greater area of land in the United States than World Heritage sites and the two programs combined allow an unprecedented level of international intervention in United States’ affairs, thereby seriously compromising U.S. national sovereignty. u

Erica Olsen is Managing Editor of the Nevada Journal.

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