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How U.N. Biosphere Reserves expand

By Henry Lamb
web posted March 6, 2006

The Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve (SAMAB) began in the 1970s when UNESCO recognized the 571,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park as a site worthy to be included in its growing global network of Biosphere Reserves. Neither Congress, nor the legislatures of either affected state, reviewed, debated, or approved the designation.

SAMABToday, SAMAB encompasses nearly 37-million acres. Still, neither Congress, nor any of the affected states’ legislatures have reviewed, debated, or approved the designation, or the expansion.

How can this happen? SAMAB is an “interagency” organization of representatives of several federal and state agencies that have some jurisdiction within the area. SAMAB provides the mechanism for these agencies to coordinate their work to advance a cooperative agenda.

Since neither Congress, nor the state legislatures review the work of the SAMAB, who sets the agenda?

The Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture, where many of the SAMAB agencies reside, are members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The IUCN is accredited by, and consultant to, both UNESCO and the United Nations. The IUCN was, and continues to be, instrumental in the development and implementation of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program.

The agenda for U.N. Biosphere Reserves is set in UNESCO documents known as the Statutory Framework, and the Seville Strategy, both of which were developed with “consultation” from the IUCN.

Biosphere Reserves, by definition, include “core wilderness areas” protected from human use, which are surrounded by “buffer zones,” which are managed for conservation objectives, which are surrounded by “zones of cooperation,” which are “laboratories for sustainable development.”

Through “restoration” and “rehabilitation,” wilderness areas and buffer zones are to expand, pushing the zone of cooperation ever outward.

The Bowater Corporation has offered to sell 100,000 non-contiguous acres of land, scattered across 14 counties of East Tennessee, most of which is within, or adjacent to, the SAMAB. The Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental organization, is leading an effort to get the state of Tennessee to purchase the land for an estimated price of $300 million.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is also a member of the IUCN. Bureaucrats from these agencies and representatives from member NGOs, meet regularly through the IUCN to shape policies that are adopted by the U.N. and UNESCO. At home, working through “interagency” groups such as SAMAB, they implement the policies they helped to develop.

A spokesman for the NRDC told the Nashville Tennessean that the area is a “biogem,” one of the “most endangered wildernesses in America.” The Tennessee Environmental Council, and the Dogwood Alliance, are both long-time supporters of the Biosphere Reserve agenda, and are actively promoting the state’s purchase of the land.

Aside from the initial price tag of about $300 million that will have to be paid by Tennessee taxpayers, the loss of property tax to the 14 affected counties would be about $700,000 - each and every year. The remaining taxpayers would have to make up the loss through higher tax rates - each and every year.

While the environmental organizations claim that the land will produce new revenues from “eco-tourism,” the truth is that much of the land will be shut down and “restored” or “rehabilitated” into wilderness or buffer zones. The private lands that remain between the non-contiguous segments of Bowater land will be targeted for acquisition by environmental groups and government. In short order, the people will be forced off the land altogether, and SAMAB will expand even further.

The SAMAB “interagency” management structure is an excellent example of how professional bureaucrats have been able to bypass elected policy-making bodies of government, in order to implement their own vision of how land use should be managed. Policy by professionals, rather than policy by elected officials, is one of the first principles of sustainable development.

There is a growing movement across America to shut down all the U.N. Biosphere Reserves in the United States. Biosphere Reserve proponents contend that this would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater, since, the proponents claim, there are many benefits provided by the Biosphere Reserves.

Biosphere Reserves will be among the hottest topics discussed at a national conference this summer. The discussion will identify reasons to retain, and reasons to end, the Biosphere reserve program. The outcome is expected to produce legislation that will either retain, end, or modify the Biosphere Reserve program in the United States.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

 

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