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Executive Summary One miRion acres of the Grand Canyon, majestic as it is, isn't worth 100 acres offarmiand in Iowa if you want to raise corn. They are not interchangeable. [Former Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus.] it is difficult to compare the relative value of expanding a wildlife ref- uge in the Florida Keys with the addition of acreage to an urban park near San Francisco, just as it is difficult to compare the value of supple- menting federal holdings in the Sequoia National Park with the purchase of land next to the Antietam battlefield. But those are the types of deci- sions faced regularly by Congress in determining priorities for funding under the Land and Water Conservation Fund ~WCF). Each year, Congress must decide how much money should be appro- priated for We acquisition of public lands under the Land and Water Conservation Fund ~WCF). Four federal agencies are responsible for most of Me federal government's land acquisition; those agencies hold approximately 626 million acres, nearly 28% of the United States. The Bureau of Land Management 03LM) accounts for 270 million acres, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) manages 191 million acres, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) maintains about 89 million acres in 472 national wildlife refuges, and the National Park Service (NPS) manages 76 million acres in more than 360 units. (Other federal, state, and local 1
2 SETTING PRIORITIES FOR LAND CONSERVATION holdings bring the publicly held land in Me United States to slightly more Man 40% of the total land area). The four principal federal landholding agencies have differing man- dates, histories, cultures, and criteria for choosing what lands to buy. Yet Congress must decide how to allocate the appropriations among those agencies, despite the difficulty of comparing different agency values. Since the EWCF was established by Congress in 1964, more than $3.6 billion has been expended by federal agencies to acquire lands, and another $3.2 billion has been made available in matching funds to the states for land acquisition, as well as for development of recreational facilities. In recent years, federal agencies have been active in land acquisition for conservation of recreation resources, historic preserva- tion, establishment of wildlife and endangered species habitat, and other objectives. A recent shift toward greater recognition of ecological goals has in some cases strained federal-Iocal partnerships and polarized groups seeking to preserve landscapes for competing ends. To obtain assistance in evaluating Me land-acquisition requests from Me four principal landholding agencies, Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate Me land-acquisition criteria and proce- dures of BEM, USFWS, NPS, and USES and to compare their methods wig those of private groups, such as The Nature Conservancy (l NC), - Mat are active in buying land for conservation. In response, the Nation- al Research Council appointed the Committee on Scientific and Techni- cal Criteria for Federal Acquisition of Lands for Conservation. The committee was asked specifically · To review criteria and procedures by which NPS, BEM, USES, and USFWS acquire lands for conservation; · To assess the historic, public policy, and scientific bases of [and acquisition criteria and compare them with nongovernmental organ~za- tions; · To assess the effectiveness of Me four federal agencies in preserv- ing natural resources while achieving mandated public policy objectives of the agencies; · To evaluate the extent to which agencies use objective methods, scientific knowledge, and systematic criteria in making their recommen- dations for acquiring conservation lands.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY CONSIDERATIONS FOR CRITERIA 3 To carry out its charge, the committee needed a framework to evalu- ate the criteria of He four agencies. Individual agency criteria and procedures are quite diverse; they include statutory mandates; well- documented, formal rules of practice; and informal procedures. Con- gress also has its own criteria, even if they are not formalued. The differences between agency lists and the acquisitions funded by Congress have led some to suggest that political considerations override any systematic, objective criteria. Such suggestions seem to be based on a sense that analysis is somehow different from and superior to politics. But politics and analysis overlap in many ways, and politics is the ex- pression however imperfect-of group and individual interests. Those interests include complicated mixtures of perceptions, ideologies, eco- nomic interests, and even altruism. The diverse interests can result in conflicts, but they can also result in increased scientific information becoming available, as has occurred when scientists study areas to in- form proponents or opponents of federal acquisition. Thus, Be committee needed to examine Be various factors Cat make up land-acquisition policies and form the basis for Be agencies' criteria. The committee concluded that workable criteria should · Be consistent with agency missions; · Contribute to achieving sustainability of renewable-resource bases, including biological and cultural diversity; · Provide the basis for long-term planning, as well as Be flexibility to take advantage of unexpected opportunities for land protection; · Be feasible to administer and apply in a consistent manner; · Respond to changing scientific knowledge, social values, policy, and public input; · Clarify the significance of Be proposed acquisition based on objec- tive scientific and technical information; · Distinguish among competing conservation values; Identify Be distribution of social costs and benefits Cat would result; · Be continually re-evaluated for performance and experience gained in Weir use.
4 SElTl~G PRIORITIES FOR LAND CONSERVA TION In evaluating the criteria, the committee considered matters of process as well as the values and scientific issues that underlie the agencies' land- acquisition criteria. The Meaning of Conservation and Public Versus Private Land The term "conservation" has many meanings; but most definitions share a concern for the future. Thus, the committee's working defini- tion of conservation is the management of land resources to sustain their productivity in the long term and to avoid losses of valuable compo- nents. Conservation includes physical, biological, social, historical, agricultural, cultural, recreational, and aesthetic components. This report focuses on ecological and biological aspects of conservation, although He committee recognizes Be importance of over public-policy objectives, such as cultural and historical preservation or equitable distri- bution of recreational opportunities. Furler, We interests of landowners whose property is within public land boundaries ("inholders"), as well as the needs of nonresident populations must be considered. Priorities tenons objectives usually are value judgments, but all of the objectives are recognized by law and are integral components of conservation. Private and public values often cannot be conveniently separated. As the interests of private and public landowners become more intertwined, the responsibilities of private managers change, and public managers become more alert to private property considerations. Conservation, including human needs, cannot be achieved through land acquisition alone. Scientific Bases for Conservation Biological criteria for land acquisition have evolved with increasing understanding, from saving isolated areas for scientific observation to protecting biological diversity and Be functioning of ecosystems and landscapes. But increased scientific understanding has also revealed Cat natural systems change incessantly. Studies of historical and prehistoric records make clear that Be physical environment including the cli
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY s mate-has been changing on a variety of time and space scales ever since life has existed on Earth. Organisms and ecosystems have changed as well. With this increased understanding has come general recognition Hat equilibrium models of the natural world often are not appropriate; dynamic models are required instead. This has profound consequences for conservation efforts. Conservation goals cannot be achieved in perpetuity simply and exclusively by strategic property set-asides. The mode} of an ecological system maintained in an undisturbed state is giving way to a dynamic view that seeks to protect Be processes of natural dynamics and pays attention to size, shape, spatial arrangements, and connections in conservation lands. Because many ecological processes occur over large time and space scales, conservation usually is more effective if conservation areas are connected. Populations of organisms in isolated patches are more likely to suffer local extinction than those in patches connected by corridors to other patches. Thus, integrated and complementary approaches are needed to identify critical unprotected areas, to connect fragmented and isolated habitats under Be jurisdiction of separate agencies, and to meet a diversity of conservation needs, such as public access or wildlife mi- gration. Making connections between lands, across agencies, and through planning is an important generic strategy. Tools and Techniques The topic of this report federal land acquisition has many aspects. The term "acquisition" includes not only buying full title to parcels of land (acquisitions in fee), but also purchase of fractional interests (such as conservation easements), exchanges, and the exercise of eminent domain. Examination of NPS, BEM, USES, and USFWS criteria sug- gests the emergence of several new property perspectives that could influence acquisition practice as it unfolds in the twenty-first century. One example is the use of methods that encourage transactions between willing sellers and buyers. Another is recognition Mat acquisition by public entities need not be limited to full-fee or top~olIar purchases but can include purchase of partial interests and other less-costly manage- ment mechanisms. Yet another example is Be gradual blurring of dis- tinct roles of private and public owners, where the responsibilities of
6 SETTING PRIORITIES FOR LAND CONSERVATION private managers include public purposes and Me responsibilities of public managers include private considerations. A new conservation paradigm may come to rely more on property partnerships and management agreements between federal and local agencies and between public and private nonprofit conservation interests and private landowners than on strict federal ownership and control of the landscape. A notable example of such partnership is the "working landscape" mode! used in Europe, which focuses on the simultaneous protection of cultural and biological diversity and recognizes their coevo- lution and interdependence. These dual objectives are best obtained through mixed property systems that demonstrate versatility and practi- cality. Finally, Mere is increasing recognition of the need for and power of social analysis in evaluating potential land acquisitions. There is never enough money available to meet conservation needs, regardless of whether full-fee acquisition, purchase of partial interests, or other man- agement options are used. Social impact assessment can be a powerful too} in allocating limited funds among various acquisition options. CURRENT CRITERIA National Park Service acquisitions can occur only within the bound- aries of units authorized by Congress. Key considerations used to estab- lish NPS acquisition priorities within individual park units are the prima- ry purpose of the unit, land price escalation, legislative history, immi- nent threats, and protection of the unit. For any privately owned parcel, a land protection plan must identify the least federal interest needed to be acquired to achieve federal goals for that parcel. During He 1980s, NPS developed ranking criteria according to regional acquisition priori- ties; however, chose criteria never were implemented. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the national forests for multiple use, uses a point system similar to that used by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (discussed below); projects must meet OMB's four minimum criteria. Other information gathered includes the type of area, priority within the region, acreage, location, price per acre, and total cost. Points are assigned based on whether the project meets specific needs in the forest plan, and on Me OMB criteria. The national wildlife refilge system of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 7 Service comprises diverse lands, many of which were established and are managed for different purposes. In 1983, USFWS began to develop the Land Acquisition Priority System (LAPS), which defines five target areas: endangered species, migratory birds, significant biological diver- sity, nationally significant wetlands, and fishery resources. Separate criteria developed for each target area are derived from plans prepared under different authorities. LAPS has additional criteria common to all projects, including whether a proposed acquisition contributes to more than one target area and addresses threats to habitats. Regional offices develop lists of priorities and project proposals; those lists are compiled in a national data base to rank projects. Two final project lists are developed: one for migratory birds and one for endangered species. The Bureau of Land Management first received general land-acqui- sition authority under Me Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976, which authorized Me secretary of Me interior to acquire lands or inter- ests in lands by purchase, exchange, donation, or eminent domain. All BEM lands are to be managed on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield. Resource management plans, prepared for each management unit, contain detailed descriptions of lands available (primarily through ex- changes) and lands that are desirable for acquisition. BEM's key objec- tives for wildlife are to acquire critical wildlife habitat and consolidate scattered tracts of land for efficient management of resources. Key objectives for recreation are to provide a diversity of recreational oppor- tunities, provide resource~ependent recreational opportunities, manage and monitor essential resources, use land ownership and access to en- hance recreational opportunities, and contribute to local economies by cooperating with tourism groups. To rank acquisition priorities for overall EWCF appropriations, the Office of Management and Budget created a system that incorporates some aspects of NPS, SLUM, USES, and USFWS criteria, while em- phas~zing Me administration's priorities, such as recreational opportu- nities near urban areas arid wetlands protection. In identifying acqui- sition priorities for the federal budget, OMB ranks each agency's priori- ties according to a point system. Minimum standards to qualify for · . . acquisition are · Whether the proposed acquisition is within Be boundaries of or is contiguous with an authorized unit; · Absence of known health or safety hazards;
8 SETTING PRIORITIES FOR LAND CONSERVATION . Absence of opposition from current owners; and · A limit of 10% of the purchase price for infrastructure expenses (e.g., costs of campsites and trails). Points are awarded for different categories. The general categories are recreation and access (140 points), habitat and wetlands protection (120 points), cost minimization (70 points), threat of development (50 points), and protection of significant cultural and natural features (40~. The assistant secretary for each agency can then add points for an agency's highest priority items. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The most successful acquisition criteria focus on specific purposes and well-understood policy goals, such as Me USFWS criteria for migratory bird habitat or TNC criteria, which are based primarily on the goal of protecting biological diversity. By contrast, the OMB Land Acquisition Priority Procedure HAPPY criteria lump the funding requests of several agencies into a single priority list submitted to Congress. In He fo~a- tion of this list, agency missions often are compromised by evaluating noncomparable requests. Such a combined ranking system cannot ad- dress complex value comparisons. Traditions acquisition practice has focused upon He evaluation of individual land parcels, apart from considerations of broader biogeo- graphical and landscape patterns. Different conservation objectives among federal land-management agencies have led to a fragmented pattern of reserves selected mainly to protect specific resources. Specif- ic conservation objectives do not necessarily address larger goals, such as He protection of entire ecosystems. Comparative evaluations of properties can be distorted grossly if they ignore the regional contexts and ecological dynamics of a particular land parcel or system of parcels. Evaluations of land parcels on their individual merits and their trans- boundary planning potential are aided greatly by new technologies such as gap analysis and geographic information systems (GIS). Gap analysis and GIS are used widely in resource planning decisions, and their use should be encouraged and refined. Their usefulness, however, depends upon He adequacy of existing data and upon maps of ownership, inven
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 9 tories, population trends, and species distribution. Unfortunately, no comprehensive federal inventory of current landholdings in protected status is available to provide a basis for an interagency and regional perspective of land acquisition needs; therefore, it often is difficult to determine the success of criteria in meeting particular objectives. Better information is indispensable for improved acquisition decisions. The involvement of nonprofit organizations has been a significant development in federal land-acquisition procedure in recent years. Those groups work as facilitators, innovators, dealmakers, and inter- mediaries between sellers and government buyers. Nonprofit groups often have rapid discovery and response capabilities that governments sometimes lack and can put together complex multiparce} transactions that cross agency boundaries and facilitate cooperation between public and private property owners. Finally, although systematic planning and preparation are of great importance, they can result in overlooking some conservation opportu- nities; for this reason, a robe for emergency acquisitions is justified. The Alaska purchase called "Seward's Folly" at the time-illustrates how important seizing an opportunity can be in land acquisition. After reviewing We current criteria used by NPS, BEM, USES, and USFWS, the committee developed We following recommendations. Goals OMB and the four agencies should separate the current national ranking system into at least three categories: outdoor recreation re- sources, natural resources protection, and cultural resources protection. Over categories may be needed, especially where Congress has desig- nated portions of the federal lands for specific purposes, such as to protect specific kinds of resources, including wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and historic and archeological sites. The criteria for conservation-land acquisition should be expanded to include landscape pattern analysis. Such analysis generally includes land use and land cover data and measures factors such as patch char- acteristics, vegetation types, ecological trends, and hydrologic interac- tions with these resources. Land uses in an entire watershed should be considered in the design of reserves.
10 SEINING PRIORITIES FOR LAND CONSERVATION BLM, UPS, USES, and USERS should prepare an overall strategic plan that identifies land-acquisition needs for establishing and protecting representative natural areas on federal lands that can provide scientific baselinesforjudging the effects of human actions on the natural environ- ment. Those needs should be recognized in the federal land-acquisition · · - priorities. Agencies should use the widest possible range of land-protection strategies in formulating acquisition proposals. That range should cover public ownership, land-use regulation, alternatives to fee-simple acquisi- tion, exchanges, public-private and interagency arrangements, partner- ships, cross-boundary planning, land banks, and other techniques. Procedures Agencies should develop and use long-term Zand-acquisition plans that can be used to identify priorities and opportunitiesfor interagency coop- eration. Those plans should take into account regional conservation needs, as well as social effects of acquisitions on local landowners and communities, and they should provide a mechanism for public participa- tion. The multiyear perspective of such plans would enable Congress to judge how well the agencies fulfill their missions and facilitate the evalu- ation of the cumulative effects of Iand acquisition. The federal land-acquisition program for conservation should have a common, interagency information base as part of a systematic approach to achieving its goals (e.g., protection of biological diversity, wild and scenic Avers, cultural heritage, public recreations. This information base should enable the land-management agencies and Congress to deter- mine the extent to which conservation needs are being met and to identi- fy gaps in meeting these needs. Such information should be expanded and assembled for all four agencies in a common GIS. The agencies should continue to refine and expand their applications of gap analysis and GIS. Data gathering should be improved, extended, and directed with a view towards applications in gap analysis and GIS. When feasi- ble, social impact analysis should be used. Federal acquisition criteria should distinguish nationalfrom state arm local criteria for outdoor recreation aru] other conservation needs. NPS, BEM, USES, and USFWS should consider public outdoor recre
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 11 ation opportunities and conservation needs and resources of state, local government, and Indian tribal lands in federal land-use plans. Private larul managers should be encouraged to achieve goals that previously have been achieved primarily through acquisition by estab- lishing partnerships and other means of cooperation. This emphasis is needed because conservation needs cannot be satisfied through public land-acquisition programs alone. For long-term planning and consistent adherence to a set of criteria, the tWCF needs adequate and predictable fuming. National planning should be attentive to local planning. National criteria should be tied to criteria used in local land-use plans and should give weight to congres sionally designated areas. Congress should develop effective mechanisms, such as providing discretionary [WCF funding, for dealing with emergencies and unex- pectedl opportunities. This would permit the secretaries of the Depart- ment of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to take advantage of unexpected opportunities or respond to unwelcome threats to resourc- es. Acquisitions should periodically be assessed retrospectively to deter- mine if the purposes for acquisition have been achieved. Criteria also should be periodically re-evaluated in He light of changes in holdings, biological resources and climate conditions, demographics and public recreational needs, scientific knowledge and data bases, concepts of conservation, as well as changing concepts of property in the service of conservation goals. Agencies should continue to take advantage of the ability of the rzon- profit organizations to act swiftly to secure properties until an agency can acquire them. This can be done while ensuring Mat federal acquisi- tion priorities guide the process and that the specifics of the transactions be in accordance wig federal guidelines that control dealing with non- prof~t organizations. Nonprofit organizations historically have played a vital role in enabling government agencies to carry out acquisition pro- grams expeditiously and effectively.
Setting Priorities for Land Conservation