Be Wary of National Heritage Areas

National Heritage Areas (NHAs) have been established for the alleged purpose of preserving areas of “national significance.” National significance is defined as possessing “unique natural, historical, cultural, educational, scenic, or recreational resources of exceptional value or quality.” This broad definition could be applied to almost any land anywhere.

There are currently 24 NHAs, each established by a separate act of Congress. Since separate establishment is cumbersome, there is a campaign to pass over-riding legislation to make creation easier.

That legislation, the National Heritage Partnership Act (NHPA, S2543), is being fast-tracked through Congress. If passed, there may be a flood of new NHAs proposed throughout the country.

Santa Cruz Valley NHA

A new NHA has been proposed for Southern Arizona, the Santa Cruz Valley NHA. This NHA would encompass 3,325 square miles, an area twice as large as Rhode Island. It follows the Santa Cruz River from the Mexican border to Pinal County. Within its proposed borders are the City of Tucson, Sahuarita, Green Valley and Nogales; much of the developable lands in Pima County; ranch lands, several major copper mines, and most of the remaining mineral-rich land in Pima County. The eastern boundary of the “study area” follows the spine of the Huachuca, Whetstone, Rincon, and Santa Catalina Mountains. The western boundary follows the Tumacacori, Sierrita, and Tucson Mountains.

This proposal comes from the Center for Desert Archaeology. They hope to become the “Local Coordinating Entity” under NHPA, which would provide $1 million per year for up to 15 years. You can read the Center's propaganda at For an opposing view, go to the American Policy Center, For information on existing NHAs, go to the National Park Service site at

The National Heritage Partnership Act

This proposed legislation will allow the Secretary of the Interior to establish NHAs. Each NHA proposed requires a Management Plan. A partial list of requirements for this plan includes:

1) A description of comprehensive policies, goals, strategies, and recommendations for telling the story of the heritage of the area covered by the National Heritage Area and encouraging long-term resource protection, enhancement, interpretation, funding, management, and development of the National Heritage Area.

2) A description of actions and commitments that governments, private organizations, and citizens will take to protect, enhance, interpret, fund, manage, and develop the natural, historical, cultural, educational, scenic, and recreational resources of the National Heritage Area.

3) An inventory of the natural, historical, cultural, educational, scenic, and recreational resources of the National Heritage Area related to the national significance and themes of the National Heritage Area that should be protected, enhanced, interpreted, managed, funded, and developed.

4) Recommend policies and strategies for resource management, including the development of intergovernmental and interagency agreements to protect, enhance, interpret, fund, manage, and develop the natural, historical, cultural, educational, scenic, and recreational resources of the National Heritage Area.

Why we should be wary of NHAs

NHAs are administered by the National Park Service, an agency notoriously hostile to private property rights. Most federal environmental laws are triggered when there is a “federal nexus.” An NHA automatically provides a federal nexus. Once an area is designated an NHA, the feds have control over local zoning, either directly through the contract setting up the NHA, or indirectly by coercive allocation of federal funds.

The promoters of the Santa Cruz Valley NHA have stated that its creation will have no deleterious effects on private property, ranching, mining, or mineral exploration. That's the promise, but the facts are otherwise. The American Policy Center has provided some examples:

“When the Augusta Canal NHA was undergoing initial approval, the National Park Service urged the House Resources Committee to withhold federal funds from Augusta Canal until a commitment was shown by those overseeing the creation of the NHA to implement stricter zoning laws and even create a State park.

“National Heritage Areas not only promote federal land acquisition, but also acquire land themselves. Both the Cane River and Shenandoah National Battlefields National Heritage Areas are authorized to use federal funds for land acquisition, and thus, have created national parks within their boundaries. Others, such as the Rivers of Steel NHA in Pennsylvania, are openly lobbying for land acquisition and park creation. Property owners within these NHAs must now contend with ideologically driven land trusts partnered with federal agencies hungry to either acquire their land or restrict its use.”

Tucson and Southern Arizona have an archaeological record of almost 5,000 years of continual habitation, and is probably the oldest continually inhabited area in North America. The mammoth hunters were here 13,000 years ago. We should preserve and interpret some of this history, but we should not be captured by the past to the extent that it may stifle our future. The federal way should not be our way; let's keep it local.