Follow by Email

Monday, December 06, 2004

Introduction to the Blog

I want to thank Alan Downer of the Navajo Nation for suggesting that I put this blog together. Or at least I guess I want to thank him; we'll see. His suggestion was that because I enjoy writing about cultural resource management (CRM) topics, and (maybe this was only his implication, or my assumption) am unlikely to get published much by such conventional journals as there are on the subject (which I find relentlessly superficial and devoted only to presenting happy stories), I should create my own forum for "publication" and discussion in cyberspace. So, for better or worse, here it is. I figure to post my own stuff from time to time, and encourage others both to comment on it and to post their/your own writings.

A word or two about myself for those who don't know me. I've been working in CRM -- which I define as the management of the cultural environment, writ large, and especially impacts on that environment, under international, national, state/provincial, local, and other laws and regulations -- for about 45 years. My academic training is in anthropology and archaeology (PhD UC Riverside 1976), but I like to think of myself as having pretty decent interdisciplinary credentials. In recent years I've authored four textbooks (one of them now in its second edition) on CRM topics, published by AltaMira Press , and have another in progress. At various times in my checkered career I've run a small consulting firm in California, overseen contract work for the New York Archaeological Council, worked for the National Park Service in Washington DC, helped set up historic preservation programs in several of the Micronesian Island nations of the Pacific, spent ten years with the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation overseeing project review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and -- having left government in a huff during Daddy Bush's administration -- spent the last 15 years as a private consultant, attempted resolver of disputes, and trainer. Until recently I did training for the National Preservation Institute . I'm now affiliated with SWCA Environmental Consultants . In my spare time I work as senior archaeologist with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, where I'm mostly involved in TIGHAR's Amelia Earhart Search Project, focusing on Nikumaroro Island in the Republic of Kiribati; several co-authors and I have a book out on that, too -- just published in an updated paperback edition by AltaMira Press. My vital statistics are:

Address: PO Box 14515, Silver Spring, MD 20911
Phone: 240-475-0595 (Cellphone)
Fax: 240-469-1179


Tom King said...

Hmm. Apparently I haven't yet figured out all of Blogger's eccentricities. I tried to insert links to the various organizations I referred to in the above article, but they don't seem to have been picked up. Here are the URLs for those who may be interested:

AltaMira Press:
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation:
National Preservation Institute:
SWCA Environmental Consultants:
The Int'l Grp for Hist. Aircraft Rec.:

Tom King said...

Here's a paper that I recently submitted to the U.S. National Park Service's "CRM" journal, which its publishers predictably declined to publish. Please feel free to use, cite, respond, etc. etc. I see that footnotes and such did not publish; if you'd like a copy with all that stuff, please drop me a note at


Animals and the National Register

Thomas F. King
P.O. Box 14515
Silver Spring MD 20911

September 21, 2004


In two recent instances, questions have come to my attention about the relevance of animals to the National Register of Historic Places, and vice-versa. I think this issue – which I confess I had not realized was an issue until it came up in these cases – merits some discussion.

One of the cases involves a river in which salmon swim. Salmon are tremendously important to the cultures and economies of the Indian tribes that live along the river, and are deeply wrapped up in their spiritual lives – as are other fish and wildlife in and around the river, and indeed the river itself. In the opinion of the tribes (and their cultural resource consultant), the river is eligible for the National Register as a traditional cultural property under National Register Criterion “A.” We have identified the fish, other wildlife, and plants native to the river, and particularly the salmon, as “contributing elements,” – that is, elements that contribute to the river’s significance – because without them, the river’s cultural integrity would be compromised. Rather missing the point, the proponent of a project that affects the river asserts that his project’s effects need not be reviewed under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), because “animals are not eligible for the National Register.”

The other case involves application of Section 402 of NHPA, which requires federal agencies to consider the effects of their actions on properties listed in a host country’s “equivalent” of the National Register. A U.S. agency has failed to consider the effects of a project in which it is involved on a population of marine mammals that is listed on a host nation’s “cultural heritage registry.” At issue, of course, is the equivalence of this registry to the National Register. Supporters of the marine mammals (and their cultural resource consultant) say the two lists are equivalent – that both are designed to identify aspects of the human environment to which their respective societies attach historical and cultural significance, but achieve this purpose in slightly different ways. We argue that to demand that every nation’s register be a mirror image of the National Register would make Section 402 meaningless. We suggest that, were the marine mammals in the United States, the National Register might very well recognize their cultural significance by listing the bay within which they make their home. The agency argues that it the registers are not equivalent, because “animals are not eligible for the National Register.”

How these cases will be resolved remains to be seen, and I do not want to dwell on their particulars. Instead, I would like to work through the question of whether and how animals – living animals, that is, not animal remains in archaeological sites or animals represented in art and architecture – can in any sense be eligible for the National Register.

A Cow For the Keeper

Let us begin by accepting the obvious fact that the National Register is, by name, a register of “places.” A “place,” in National Register parlance, can be a “district,” a “site,” a “building,” a “structure,” or an “object.” We can engage in clever arguments about whether an animal might fit into one or more of these categories. Surely an animal is a “structure” made up of bone, flesh, sinew and skin; surely a whole herd of them comprises a “district.” But, we can counter-argue, they are not made by human beings. But, we can counter-counter argue, neither are many landscapes, but natural landscapes can still be eligible for the Register because of the historical events with which they are associated, the cultural freight they carry. But…..

Let’s skip all that. Let’s accept as given that if I were to nominate a cow to the National Register, the Keeper would not accept it – even if it were the first artificially cloned five-legged cow, carried the reincarnated soul of Teddy Roosevelt, was over fifty years old, and had single-hoofedly apprehended Usama bin Laden. For good or ill, and unlike people in some other countries, we do not nominate animals to the National Register.

What we do, I believe – though we do not usually give it much thought – is regard animals as elements that contribute to those historic properties with which they’re associated, and hence as aspects of such properties that should be considered in planning.

“Contributing Elements” and Their Kin

What is a “contributing element?” Although the term is widely used in an informal sort of way , I can find no published National Register definition. The Register does define a “contributing resource” – specifically with reference to historic districts – as “a building, site, structure, or object adding to the historic significance of a property .” If we let it, following this definition would take us back into debating whether a cow is a structure, or perhaps an object. This would not be useful. But to generalize, it appears that a “contributing resource” in a historic district is an element of the district that helps make it the historical, architectural, or cultural entity it is. Various National Register bulletins provide direction that is generally consistent with this interpretation.

National Register 15, How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, refers repeatedly to “important features” in discussing property integrity; this seems to mean the same thing as “contributing resource,” but is applied to a broader range of property types. Feature types alluded to in the bulletin include topographic features, vegetation, and specific elements of a building’s exterior or interior .
National Register Bulletin 16A, How to Complete the National Register Nomination Form, directs nominators to list the “specific features” of a building, giving as examples porches, verandas, porticos, stoops, windows, doors, chimneys, and dormers. It also draws attention to “important decorative elements” like finials, pilasters, bargeboards, brackets, halftimbering, sculptural relief, balustrades, corbelling, cartouches, and murals or mosaics, and to “significant interior features,” such as floor plans, stairways, functions of rooms, spatial relationships, wainscoting, flooring, paneling, beams, vaulting, architraves, moldings, and chimneypieces. With respect to historic districts, it directs the nominator to count contributing buildings, sites, structures, and objects. Something that contributes to a district “adds to the historic associations, historic architectural qualities, or archeological values for which a property is significant” either because it is eligible for the Register in its own right or because “it was present during the period of significance, relates to the documented significance of the property, and possesses historic integrity or is capable of yielding important information about the period .”
National Register Bulletin 40, Guidelines for Identifying, Evaluating, and Registering Battlefields, says that “contributing resources may include all buildings extant at the time of the battle (including buildings that served as headquarters, hospitals, or defensive positions); structures such as the original road network on the battlefield; stone walls or earthworks used as defensive positions, or bridges over important waterways, sites such as burial sites, or objects such as statues and markers .”
National Register Bulletin 30, Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Rural Historic Landscapes, discusses how a landscape displays “characteristics” that define its significance. Some of these characteristics are general influences on the landscape, such as “response to the natural environment” and “cultural traditions,” but others are more specific “components,” such as circulation networks, boundary demarcations, buildings, structures, and objects whether isolated or in clusters, archeological sites, and small-scale elements like footbridges and signs. Most relevant to the question of animals is this bulletin’s treatment of “vegetation related to land use,” also listed as a “component” that may help define a landscape’s character:
Various types of vegetation bear a direct relationship to long-established patterns of land use. Vegetation includes not only crops, trees, or shrubs planted for agricultural and ornamental purposes, but also trees that have grown up incidentally along fence lines, beside roads, or in abandoned fields. Vegetation may include indigenous, naturalized, and introduced species.
While many features change over time, vegetation is, perhaps, the most dynamic. It grows and changes with time, whether or not people care for it. Certain functional or ornamental plantings, such as wheat or peonies, may be evident only during selected seasons. Each species has a unique pattern of growth and life span, making the presence of historic specimens questionable or unlikely in many cases. Current vegetation may differ from historic vegetation, suggesting past uses of the land .
So in the case of a landscape, at least, living things can clearly be components that contribute to a property’s character.

The relative importance of a property’s different parts is often an issue in building maintenance and rehabilitation. Part II of the form used to apply for certification of a rehabilitation project for federal income tax credits requires that individual elements of a building to be rehabilitated be identified and described, including information about their relationship to the building ; the applicant goes on to describe whether and how each such element will be modified by the rehabilitation work. The reason for this detailed treatment is not made very obvious by the instructions for completing the application form, but Preservation Brief 32, Making Historic Properties Accessible indicates that the rationale is to preserve that which contributes to the building’s character. In this bulletin, Thomas Jester and Sharon Park emphasize the need to “identify which character defining features and spaces must be protected whenever any changes are anticipated .”

As examples of typical “character defining features,” Jester and Park mention “construction materials, the form and style of the property, the principal elevations, the major architectural or landscape features, and the principal public spaces.”

Charles Birnbaum and Christine Capella Peters, in the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes, also refer to “character-defining features,” defining such a feature as any “prominent or distinctive aspect, quality, or characteristic of a cultural landscape that contributes significantly to its physical character.” Although the examples they go on to provide are all relatively static, and in some cases non-living – “land use patterns, vegetation, furnishings, decorative details and materials” – they define the term “cultural landscape” itself as:

A geographic area (including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein) associated with a historic event, activity, or person or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values .

In summary, then, whether the term used is “contributing element,” “contributing resource,” “character-defining feature,” “important feature,” or just “component,” it is widely recognized that some elements of a property help to define its significance, character, and integrity while others do not.

Examining my own use of the term “contributing element,” and the use of the same and similar terms by others, I think we’re all talking about the same thing. Those aspects of a district, site, building, structure or object that help define its character contribute to its significance and integrity, and hence to its eligibility for the National Register. Those that do not help define the property’s character do not contribute to its significance, integrity, and eligibility. We regularly discuss – occasionally in nominations but more often in eligibility documentation and still more frequently in rehabilitation plans and in arguments about what does and does not have to be attended to during Section 106 review – whether a given piece of a building, part of a site, or segment of a landscape contributes to the property’s eligibility. Does the elevator lobby help define the character of the courthouse? Does the disturbed 19th century component contribute to the archaeological site’s research value? Does the southeast slope of the valley contribute to the character of the landscape? “Contributing element” is not always the phrase we use in identifying important parts of a property, but it is a widely used term and is as good a term as any.

Can a Cow Contribute?

So, can an animal – or a herd, pride, pod, covey, or other group of animals – contribute to the eligibility of a property? Can it help define such a property’s character?

The answer, I think, is obviously “yes.” Consider a historic zoo – say, the National Zoo in Washington D.C. If you took away the animals, would the National Zoo loose an important aspect of its character? Certainly. Would it become ineligible for the National Register? Probably not; it would still have historical associations and architectural qualities that would make it eligible. But would it have lost an important degree of integrity? Certainly; the animals are an important – indeed, central – feature defining the zoo’s character.

The same is obviously true of a landscape in which buffalo roam or deer and antelope play. This is why the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Treatment of Cultural Landscapes defines the term “cultural landscape” to include “wildlife or domestic animals”

As an example, consider a bay in which a community has traditionally maintained a fishery. There are many specific features around the bay that are associated with the community’s fishing practices – docks, wharfs, piers, boats, a cannery, a fish hatchery. Some of these might be eligible for the Register in their own rights, but collectively they are the elements that contribute to – the properties that define the character of – the bay as a National Register eligible historic district. But there is another element that is crucial to the character of the district: fish. If the fish go away, fishing will cease and the district will lose a key aspect of its character. It will become a sort of ghost town, a museum display. It may regain vitality with the rehabilitation of its cannery as a shopping mall and the conversion of its piers into a theme park, but its character will be fundamentally changed from what it was as the living core of a fishing community. The fish are fundamental to the bay’s significance .

This is not to say that the bay will be ineligible for the National Register if the fish all go belly-up. There are many former fishing communities that are on the National Register for their association with fishing, even though fishing is no longer very important to their existence. Cannery Row in Monterey, California is an obvious example. A place like Cannery Row can be eligible for the Register because it evokes a past condition, but the character of such a place is very different from that of a place in which the past condition has continued into the present. Cannery Row and a living fishing community may both be eligible for the National Register, but the things we want to try to keep in one case are beyond being of concern in the other. In the case of Cannery Row we may not be much troubled by changes in the local sardine population – the fish no longer contribute much to the Row’s character. In the case of the living community, on the other hand, change in the fish population on which the community depends is a matter of serious concern to anyone who values the community’s historic and cultural character.

So, I think it is entirely appropriate to identify animals – as well as plants, of course – as contributing elements, or character-defining features, of a historic property, provided they actually do contribute to that property’s historic or cultural character.

This conclusion may seem self-evident; indeed, it did to me until I had to think it through in connection with the cases alluded to at the beginning of this paper. This is why National Register Bulletin 38, Guidelines for Identification and Documentation of Traditional Cultural Properties – the only bulletin with my name on it – does not discuss animals, or even contributing elements. It seemed self-evident that animals -- just like plants, rocks, the water in a spring – could contribute to the eligibility of a traditional cultural property, provided they have something to do with that property’s character.

It is true that “the National Register doesn’t list animals,” but this is a truth without meaning. The National Register doesn’t list cornices, either, or staircases, or fenestration, or stratigraphic levels in an archeological site, but all these features may contribute to the character, the significance, the integrity, and hence the eligibility of a place. So may animals, and it is as contributing elements that animals are appropriately included in the National Register.

But Why Bother?

In discussing this issue with colleagues, I’ve been asked whether I didn’t have something better to do with my time. After all, there are lots of laws protecting animals as animals, and their habitats as habitats; what good does it do to think of them in National Register terms? I think there are three reasons to do so.

First, the fact that one law applies to something doesn’t make another law inapplicable. The fact that we review project impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), for example, does not excuse us from considering them under NHPA as well. An animal may be a member of an endangered species and therefore have to be considered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but this doesn’t excuse us from considering it under NHPA if it has something to do with an eligible property.

Second, while the consideration afforded endangered species under ESA, NEPA, and some other statutes is substantial, that afforded species that aren’t particularly endangered is pretty paltry, but such plain old garden-variety species can often be of considerable cultural importance. Beef cattle aren’t endangered, but they’re pretty central to the cultural character of a cattle ranch.

Third, the interests we’re likely to be concerned about with an animal under NHPA may be quite different from those that underlie biological protection laws like the ESA. They may even be contrary to the interests of the mainstream natural resource conservation community. The cultural significance of an animal may lie in its being hunted, for example, while biological interests or public sympathy for cuddly critters may discourage hunting. Remember the Makah Tribe’s taking of whales , for example, and the Hopi use of baby eagles for ritual purposes . Tribes are not the only ones whose cultural interests in animals may not be entirely in synch with those of biologists and animal welfare aficionados; it is easy to imagine a case in which the continuing existence of a sport hunting club, intimately and historically associated with a tract of animal-rich land, might conflict with conservationists’ desires to end hunting on the same tract. Or consider the conflict between environmentalists who want to return grazing land to natural conditions and multi-generational ranchers who want to continue grazing. However one feels about the relative merits of whale hunting versus whale conservation, eaglet gathering versus eagle conservation, recreational hunting versus letting the animals live, and grazing versus natural area restoration, desires to hunt, gather, and graze do have cultural dimensions that are often not very thoroughly considered when we look at animals only through the lens of laws like NEPA and the ESA.


While it is true that “the National Register does not list animals,” this does not mean that animals, and impacts on animals and their habitats, are not considered or should not be considered under NHPA. Animal populations may be culturally important elements or features of a historic property, and their presence may – by itself or in combination with other features – make a property eligible for the National Register. Cultural interests in the management of animals that contribute to a historic property’s character may coincide or conflict with those of environmentalists and other segments of the population. Particularly when dealing with rural landscapes and traditional cultural properties, where animals are likely to be involved in human use or perception of the land, the relevance of animals to National Register eligibility should be explicitly considered. Where animals are relevant to a place’s cultural significance and a federal decision may affect them, such effects need to be addressed under Section 106 of NHPA.

Rik said...

This is a great blog you have here.
Very interesting to read, so I bookmarked it.
[My blog][avatars and funny stuff]

Tomfan said...

Your line of reasoning may seem farfetched to some, but I think you are right. We must also remember that many wildlife species do not receive any other state or federal protection at all, other than perhaps the seasons in which they may be legally exterminated from traditional or culturally significant areas. Your statement brings new meaning to the word "license", under the definition of an undertaking - as in hunting license. I applaud your views, and thank you for publishing them.

Earl Neller said...

1) Archaeology is associated with artifacts and digging, making it difficult for archaeologists to think of things like plants, animals, mountains and rivers as archaeological resources. Historic preservation, as it has evolved in law and practice, has given birth to cultural resources management, and has come to be associated with resources beyond artifacts and places to dig, at least for a few of us.
2) Limestone caves filled with the bones of extinct birds and animals in naturally occurring deposits are important archaeological resources, because they provide a yardstick for measuring changes in the landscape, and a means for studying archaeological patterns. Yet most archaeologists consider such finds (if they are noted at all during inventory surveys)to be paleontological, and do not record them as sites. (but they should)
3) Landscape features associated with horticulture, such as home gardens (easily recognized in some areas from vegetation), are important archaeological resources relevant to the study of subsistence and settlement patterns. Such features are considered to be botanical, and are not recorded as sites. (but they should be)
4) Plants can be important artifacts of past cultural traditions, such as the many varieties of taro, sweet potato, and banana that can be found in abandoned garden areas in Hawaii. Heritage plants are never recorded as archaeological sites. (but they should be)
5) Heritage plants are important to the perpetuation of cultural traditions, such as the continued preparation of traditional craft items, or foods. It's not about digging for clues to the past, it's about preserving historical traditions, not in a book, not in a museum, but in real life. It's about maintaining spiritual connections. Inventory surveys are wanting in this area, too.
6) Historic preservation laws were never intended to stop development. Archaeologists thought a few sites would be salvaged, not all the sites, and just a sample from a site. Even if a river were considered eligible for the Register, because of the fish living in it, the appropriate treatment might be to put up a bronze plaque on a huge chunck of rock, from the perspective of historic preservation.
7) Historic preservation laws were never intended as a means for providing economic subsistence, or for creating a map of blue states and red states. (meaning these laws have given birth to cultural changes and strange times)
8) Articles of this type need to be published in the CRM Bulletin, Common Ground, and American Antiquity.

Tom King said...

Why Isn’t the National Register Complete?

Thomas F. King
July 5, 2005

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to consider the impacts of their actions on places included in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, elsewhere in the act called “historic properties.”

In the normal course of federal agency planning and compliance with Section 106, federal agencies decide whether unregistered places are eligible for the National Register in consultation with State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs) and other interested parties. If they decide that a place is eligible, it is treated as such for purposes of Section 106 review; if they decide it is not, it is not.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have initiated discussion of draft amendments to the act that would restrict agencies to considering impacts under Section 106 only on places already included in the Register and those formally determined by the Secretary of the Interior to be eligible for inclusion. One of the rationales offered for this proposal is that too many places, and too wide a range of places, are considered to be eligible for the Register, resulting in too much time and money being spent on places of marginal historical significance. It follows, they imply, that firmer central control is needed.

Supporters of the draft amendments sometimes express puzzlement about why anyone should still need to be concerned about places that are eligible for the Register but not actually registered. After all, they point out, SHPOs and others have had almost forty years to find and nominate places; surely by now, everything that’s eligible should have been registered.

Preservationists have offered an answer to this question that is, I think, both dishonest and disingenuous. The answer is that we haven’t had enough money. If Congress would only appropriate all the money it has authorized to fund the operations of SHPOs and the conduct of historic property surveys, the Register would be complete, but alas, Congress has been tight-fisted, so…

While it is obviously true that if there were more money for surveys, more historic places would be identified and nominated to the Register, it is manifestly not true that the Register would be complete. The fact is that the Register – if construed to be a master, authoritative, fully inclusive list of every place in the nation that is of historic, cultural, archaeological and architectural significance – will never be complete. It is simpleminded to think that it ever could be, and I do not believe that we should encourage Congress to think in simpleminded terms, even if doing so might (remotely) tempt its members to give SHPOs some more money.

There are many reasons the Register – or any register conceived to be an inclusive one – can ever be complete. Notable among these are that:

• Some important historic places are deliberately kept secret by those who value them; Indian tribal spiritual places are a classic example.
• Many historic places lie on private land whose owners do not want their lands inspected to find such places (or, perhaps, for any other reason). In a nation where property rights are valued, this preference must be given due attention.
• Many such places – particularly archaeological sites, unmarked cemeteries, and the like – are underground and literally cannot be seen from the ground surface. Without excavating every foot of soil in the country, we cannot guarantee that they will be found.
• History moves on; it has not ended, and places not regarded as historic today may be so regarded in ten or twenty years because of things happening there now, or that happened there in the very recent past.

But there is an even more fundamental reason, which I want to illustrate here with an example from my own recent experience – albeit with a place that because it is not in this country, would not be eligible for the National Register. It would, however, certainly be eligible for the Register if it were in the U.S., so it illustrates my point.

The place is called “the Seven Site,” and it lies on the island of Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati, formerly part of the Crown Colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in the central Pacific. The island is uninhabited today, but between 1938 and 1963 was the scene of an ultimately unsuccessful colonization effort by the British Western Pacific High Commission (WPHC).

For the last seventeen years, the history and archaeology of Nikumaroro have comprised the focus of interdisciplinary research by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), pursuing the hypothesis that aviation pioneers Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, when they disappeared over the Pacific in 1937, wound up landing on the island and eventually dieing there . Early in our research, we learned that in the mid-1940s, U.S. Coast Guardsmen stationed on the island had found an enigmatic metal tank set up in the bush near the southeast end of the island, apparently to catch rainwater. Thinking that this might represent an Earhart/Noonan campsite where a fuel tank from their aircraft was adapted as a survival tool, TIGHAR made repeated forays into the area, finally finding the tank in 1996, near a natural seven-shaped clearing in the brush that covers this part of the island (hence the site’s name).

The tank turned out to be steel, about a meter on a side, with “Tarawa Police” painted on the side – obviously associated with the WPHC colony, and not part of an airplane. The 1996 survey party recorded a number of artifacts on the ground that were consistent with the colonial association, together with a large excavated hole and some bird bones. Classifying the site as clearly not associated with Earhart, TIGHAR classified it as insignificant, and scratched it off the list of targets for further research. Had we been analyzing it for National Register eligibility based on association with Earhart, we would have called it ineligible.

In 1997, a TIGHAR member working on a different research project in the National Archives of the Republic of Kiribati came upon a file of paperwork that proved to represent wireless traffic between WPHC officials in Fiji and Gerald B. Gallagher, a colonial officer who had in late 1940 just arrived on Nikumaroro to oversee the colony. Gallagher reported the discovery of a partial human skeleton and a woman’s shoe, together with other artifacts, the remains of a fire, and the bones of birds and turtles, near the southeast end of the island. The remains, he thought, just might be those of Amelia Earhart. He was directed to do an intensive survey of the site and send whatever he found to Fiji. He did so, and the bones were last reported in protective care there in 1942. Unfortunately, efforts by TIGHAR and the Fiji Museum to locate them have not yet proved successful.

Discovery of the Gallagher papers caused us to rethink the Seven Site. Certainly the remains noted there in 1996 reflected some kind of activity by the colonists, but we began to wonder whether the activity they reflected might have been Gallagher’s intensive survey. Further research uncovered a 1941 airphoto showing evidence that the area had been partially cleared of brush not long before – a necessary part of any such survey.

So in 2001, we returned to the Seven Site and inspected as much of it as we could, in considerable detail. We found the remains of several small fires, associated with bird, fish, and turtle bones, together with small clusters of shellfish that had been opened for their meat and a variety of suggestive – though by no means definitive – artifacts. While we can of course not be sure at this point, we think it entirely possible that the Seven Site is where Amelia Earhart camped and eventually died after her famous 1937 disappearance. We are planning (and trying to raise funding for) a return to the island in 2006 to conduct more exhaustive and definitive work at the site.

What does this have to do with the National Register? Just this. We first learned from the oral accounts of the Coast Guardsmen that there might be something of interest at the Seven Site in 1990. A search for the site in 1991 was not successful. The site was finally found in 1996 and deemed insignificant based on what we could see there. With perfect justification, we wrote the site off and walked away from it. The next year, as a result of pure serendipity, historical data turned up that drew our attention back to the site and gave us a new and much more interesting way to interpret what we had seen there. Further fieldwork in 2001 gave us more reason to think that the site really is of great, indeed central, significance to the story of the Earhart-Noonan disappearance, often referred to as one of the greatest historical mysteries of the 20th century.

Assuming we are able to get back to the site to do more work, within a couple of years we may be able to say definitively that the Seven Site is where Earhart, and perhaps Noonan too, hung on for a period of time and finally expired. If the Seven Site were in the United States, it would then unquestionably be determined eligible for the National Register. On the other hand, we may be able to say definitively that the site is not where Earhart and/or Noonan breathed their last. In this case, in a U.S. context, it would not be eligible for the Register – except, of course that our research might reveal that it is historically significant for some other reason.

This, I suggest, is how historical/archaeological research always works. It is not a simple matter of going out and finding places and things whose interpretation is unambiguous, and preparing the documents necessary to demonstrate their significance. It is a dynamic process featuring constant feedback among field research, background research, and the thought processes of researchers. What is taken to be insignificant today may be proved significant tomorrow. What is thought to be significant today may be discredited by subsequent research. What we think is important for one reason today may be found to be important for some quite different reason next year.

The example I’ve given here, we should also recognize, involves just a few kinds of historical significance – the significance of a place for its association with a specific set of events, specific important people, and the opportunities the place presents for the conduct of archaeological research. Other kinds of significance – for instance, the significance a community may ascribe to a place associated with its traditional ways of life or cultural beliefs – may be far more subjective, and may not even be explicitly perceived or expressed by people until they find that the place is at risk.

Historic significance, in other words, is not something static that can be recorded for ever and ever. It is dynamic; it changes as new discoveries are made, as we find new ways of thinking about things, and as feelings about places and things change. That may make members of Congress uncomfortable, but that’s the way it is. If we’re going to have a National Register, and a Section 106 process, that bear any plausible relationship to reality, they have to accommodate the dynamic quality of significance. Considering the impacts of government actions on places that today are considered eligible for the National Register – but that tomorrow may not be – is one way to achieve such accommodation. It is certainly not the only way, and it may well not be the best way, but it’s the way that responsible people have found to work with the dynamics of significance in the context of a static National Register. It ought not be thrown away without thorough consideration of alternatives.

Peter Marquis-Kyle said...

Congratulations on starting this blog, Tom. I'll keep an eye on what you write here (which would be easier to do if you had an RSS feed). Cheers!

Bill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bill said...

Sorry, my previous post was accidently deleted - new techno territory. What I wanted to say was . . .
Congrats, Tom, on creating this blog. It seems like a wonderful venue to read your always thoughtful, provocative, and entertaining views on CRM.

Tom King said...

Another modest suggestion for reform....


Is a Glut of Historic Places Strangling Progress?

The House Resources Committee proposes a cure, but is it worse than the disease?

Thomas F. King
July, 2005

At a hearing on April 21, 2005, the National Parks Subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Resources Committee floated a “discussion draft” of possible amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act – the primary U.S. law encouraging the preservation of historic buildings, sites, and districts throughout the country. The draft provoked a storm of objections, not only from such expectable parties as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but from Indian tribes, African-American organizations, and even the Coalition of 9/11 Families, representing the families of 9/11 victims. The congressional staffers responsible for the draft appear to have been startled, but have let it be known that they intend to persevere. A fierce struggle appears to be in the making – but the issues involved are too obscure to be likely to garner much media attention. This is unfortunate, because the outcome will profoundly affect how responsibly, and economically, the nation takes care of what our history has left to us.

The National Register and Section 106

To understand the issues, it’s necessary to understand something that its practitioners call “the Section 106 process,” as well as something called the “National Register of Historic Places” – both created by Congress when it enacted the Historic Preservation Act back in 1966. The Register – maintained by the National Park Service but listing places owned by the federal, state, and local governments, Indian tribes and private parties alike – is a list of sites, buildings, and other places found by the Park Service to be significant in American history, architecture, archaeology or culture. The Section 106 process is a regulatory scheme that all federal agencies have to follow – in compliance with Section 106 of the act – when considering what effects their projects and other actions may have on places included in, or eligible for inclusion in, the National Register.

Anyone can nominate a place to the National Register, using forms and procedures promulgated by the Park Service. The nomination goes through a process of review by the State Historic Preservation Officer – an official in each state who coordinates historic preservation activities – and by the Park Service staffers who maintain the Register. A Park Service official, the Keeper of the National Register, makes the final decision as to whether a place will be listed. According to the National Park Service’s worldwide web site, which is not quite up to date, some 79,000 places are currently listed in the Register.

Many thousands – even millions – of other places are eligible for listing in the Register, but have not been listed. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes nobody has the money to prepare a nomination. Over the years the nomination procedures have grown steadily more demanding; today a nomination virtually must be prepared by a professional historian, archaeologist, or architectural historian, and costs a couple of thousand dollars or more to produce. In many other cases there has been no urgently felt need to nominate a place, either to honor it or promote its protection from imminent danger. Some owners of historic places don’t want them put on a public list. Many historic places (notably well-buried archaeological sites) simply have not yet been found. Sometimes – as in the case of many Indian tribal burial places and sacred sites, their locations are kept secret by those who value them. Some of these places may be added to the Register in the future, but most probably will never be nominated.

The Section 106 process is laid out in regulations issued by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a tiny independent federal agency. The regulations apply to any federal agency that is considering building something, using land for something, funding something someone else (like a state highway agency) wants to do, or issuing a permit to someone who wants to do something (like fill a wetland). They require the agency to identify historic places that may be destroyed or changed by its action, and try to find ways either to protect them or somehow to mitigate the damage – for example, by excavating an archaeological site that has to be bulldozed away, or by designing a new building to be compatible with the historic buildings around it. Importantly, the agency must do this in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer and other interested parties – including whoever values the threatened place. This may be an Indian tribe, a neighborhood group, a property owner, or perhaps an organization like the Coalition of 9/11 Families, which wants to see the historic significance of the World Trade Center site properly recognized. Specialists in scholarly disciplines like archaeology or architectural history often take part in consultation. Consultation under Section 106 is really a process of negotiated compromise, seeking to arrive at decisions that balance the interests of preservation against the public interests in transportation, housing, national defense, homeland security, agriculture, and other facets of modern life.

At its best, the Section 106 process is a classic example of the sort of “communication, consultation, and cooperation in the interests of conservation” that Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton calls for – but the process was developed long before Secretary Norton articulated the idea. And at its best, it works very well; Section 106 review has saved thousands of historic buildings, archaeological sites, and valued landscapes and neighborhoods, but more often it has resulted in balanced agreements under which change to such places occurs, but something is done to protect whatever values they may have. When the Old Post Office building in Washington DC – a landmark building on the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route – was scheduled for demolition by the General Services Administration, the Section 106 process required negotiations that led to its preservation and re-use for federal offices and retail shops. When deployment of intercontinental missiles in Wyoming threatened lands sacred to the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes, consultation between the Air Force and the tribes under Section 106 resulted in adjustments to construction plans; the deployment went forward on schedule, and tribal values in the land were respected. Section 106 review has even given the families of 9/11 victims their most effective voice in planning for reconstruction at the World Trade Center site in New York.

Section 106 review has resolved conflicts between modern needs and the preservation of historic places large and small, of national and local significance, throughout the country. It is rare for everyone involved to be entirely satisfied with the process’ outcome, but that is inevitable with any system of negotiation. On the whole, the Section 106 process works. But it works best when it is encumbered with the least bureaucratic trappings – when the focus of consultation is on resolving preservation/development conflicts, rather than on fine points of definition and procedure. This brings us back to the National Register.

When the National Historic Preservation Act was first created, Section 106 required attention only to places included in the National Register – that is, places that someone had nominated and shepherded through the multi-leveled state-federal review process. The natural response of many federal agencies – which didn’t want to be bothered considering such places in their planning – was to discourage the nomination of anything in the vicinity of their projects. The equally natural response of project opponents was to nominate things, preferably at times strategically calculated to most complicate the planning process. To correct this problem, in 1972 President Richard Nixon issued an executive order requiring agencies to identify places that were eligible for the Register and treat them under Section 106 as though they were listed. Congress subsequently amended the law itself to extend Section 106 consideration to eligible properties.

In rulemaking to implement the executive order, the Park Service and Advisory Council required agencies to do the studies necessary to find places that might be eligible for the National Register, in consultation with State Historic Preservation Officers and others at the state and local level. They were then required to submit documentation on each possibly eligible place they found to the Keeper of the National Register, who ruled on whether they really were eligible. This proved cumbersome, time-consuming, and rather pointless, since the Keeper almost always agreed with determinations reached through consultation at the local and state levels. So in the mid-1980s the regulations were changed to allow agencies and State Historic Preservation Officers to decide on eligibility, subject to appeal to the Keeper. That’s the system we have today.

Distortions, Abuses, and Petty Dictators

Tens of thousands of federal “undertakings” – projects, programs of assistance, proposed permits – pass through the Section 106 process every year. The great majority pass through the system in a routine sort of way, with outcomes that most people would probably regard as balanced if not always very creative. In some cases, the process works wonders to resolve sticky disputes between change agents and the forces of preservation. When consultation under Section 106 is really open and honestly pursued, it can be a model of participatory democracy.

But like any other bureaucratic system, the process is open to willful abuse and even more vulnerable to innocent but still damaging distortion. To work well, a system based on flexible multi-party consultation requires cooperation and creativity, but increasingly in Section 106 practice both are in short supply. More and more often in recent years, Section 106 “consultation” has meant only pro-forma paperwork exchanges between agencies and State Historic Preservation Officers, with the interested public virtually excluded. As agencies have tightened their budgetary belts, some have avoided spending money on building their own historic preservation expertise by relying on the State Historic Preservation Officers simply to tell them what to do. Underfunded themselves, overworked, and often with only limited training, State Historic Preservation Officer staffs tend to adopt standard procedures to manage their workloads, and then try to apply them to every project they review, whether doing so makes sense or not. When the standard procedures fail to fit, and result in delays or unnecessary costs, project proponents blame the State Historic Preservation Officers, who point their fingers at the agencies. None of this is conducive to communication, consultation, or cooperation.

The larger agencies – especially the land managing agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and the military services – invest in their own historic preservation experts, usually hiring archaeologists because (at least as they understand it) archaeological sites are the most common kinds of historic properties found on their vast, mostly rural land holdings. Agencies assume that archaeologists learn how to administer Section 106 review programs during their academic training, but this is almost never the case. Instead, archaeologists emerge from graduate school with sophisticated ideas about the rise and fall of the Maya or the peopling of North America, but little or no notion of how laws and regulations work, or how to balance preservation interests with the needs of development. Hired by agencies or State Historic Preservation Officers, they find themselves responsible for processing hundreds or thousands of projects needing Section 106 review, each backed by a proponent clamoring for special attention. Some survive and thrive, but others crack under the strain, and far too many become petty despots. As their agencies’ only historic preservation experts, their words essentially become law. They dictate how project proponents will conduct surveys to find historic places; they determine whether such places are or are not eligible for the National Register; they decide whether a given group of people will or will not be allowed to participate in Section 106 consultation, and they specify what will be done to mitigate a project’s impacts. Such absolute power, particularly when vested in people with limited practical experience, has predictable corrupting results.

The actual legwork of Section 106 review is mostly carried out by consulting firms – either firms that specialize in historic preservation work, or larger environmental impact assessment and engineering companies. The skills and competence of these firms vary widely, and their understanding of the regulatory process is often limited. Contracts are often awarded based largely on price, thus going to the lowest, and quite likely least competent or honest, bidder. And even the most honest of contractors walks a narrow line between the interests of preservation and the interests of the client – usually a proponent agency or private land developer.

Under the circumstances, it is remarkable that the National Register and the Section 106 process work as well as they do. But in recent years, the system’s warts have become more and more apparent. A detailed, critical study has yet to be done, but anecdotal “horror stories” abound. Here are a few examples – cleansed of specifics to protect the innocent.

• A private company proposed a project on the site where, during the 1960s, the burned and bulldozed remnants of a World War II military post had been dumped. No historian, archaeologist, tribe, organization, or interest group expressed any concern about the dump. Neither the archaeologists hired by the proponent to evaluate it nor the State Historic Preservation Officer ascribed any significance to it. Archaeologists for the federal regulatory agency overseeing the project, however, insisted that the dump might be eligible for the National Register, but said they couldn’t be sure without an extensive program of detailed archaeological excavation and analysis, costing several hundred thousand dollars and requiring many months to complete. Objecting in principle to what it regarded as extortion, but unable to resolve the matter, the company finally gave up and redesigned the facility to preserve the dump – a costly undertaking in itself.

• A consulting firm for another development company completed a survey that revealed several significant but relatively easy to protect archaeological and historic sites. Upon submitting its report to the overseeing agency’s archaeologist, the firm’s specialists were taken aback to be asked why they had failed to evaluate the dirt jeep roads that crisscrossed the tract. These roads, the agency archaeologist insisted, could be pretty old and might be eligible for the National Register. Review of the proposed land-use project was delayed while many more thousands of dollars were spent studying and evaluating the jeep tracks, which to no one’s surprise were then determined ineligible for the Register.

• A local government proposing to use a federal grant to construct affordable housing for the elderly undertook a survey to see if the project would have adverse effects on historic properties. The survey covered the project site and everything within a few city blocks, in order to address indirect visual, traffic, and economic impacts. One abandoned, dilapidated old house was found on the project site, in which no one expressed any interest. The proponents’ consultants recommended that the building be considered eligible for the National Register but that it not be preserved; instead they proposed that it be documented and then demolished. The State Historic Preservation Officer demurred, saying that he really couldn’t evaluate the house without understanding its larger historic context; he insisted that the survey be expanded to cover the entire town. Meanwhile, the local government missed deadlines imposed by the federal granting authority, and the project died.

I do not mean to imply that all or even a majority of Section 106 cases involve such abuses, but virtually everyone involved in Section 106 practice has stories like these. Despite continuing happy talk by the Park Service, the Advisory Council, and other preservation authorities, the feeling is widespread that something is broken in the system by which the government seeks to control its impacts on the nation’s cultural environment.

What’s To Be Done? The Resource Committee’s Proposal

The draft amendments under discussion in the National Parks subcommittee seek to address the problems surrounding the National Register and Section 106 in two ways.

First, they would make any determination that a place is eligible for the National Register contingent upon the property owner’s consent. In other words, if I own, say, the oldest and most architecturally distinguished building in town, or an Indian burial site, and want to level it to put in a new bus depot with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, I should be able to prevent the building or site from being considered eligible for the National Register, and thereby relieve the department of its Section 106 review responsibilities.

Second, they would limit Section 106 consideration to impacts on places included in or formally determined by the Secretary of the Interior to be eligible for the National Register. So even if I as the property owner were willing for my building or burial site to be considered eligible for the Register, and the Department of Transportation were willing to carry out its resultant Section 106 responsibilities, impacts on the place would go unconsidered unless someone nominated it to the National Register or referred it to the Secretary of the Interior for a formal determination.

If these solutions appear to be a bit off-target, it’s not surprising, because they were not actually formulated to address the real difficulties with Section 106. They were motivated largely by concerns brought to members of Congress by confused constituents upset about a whole different issue – the use of National Register eligibility by local governments as a basis for designating properties as local historic landmarks.

Here’s the problem. A city or county’s designation of a place as a landmark under local law typically represents a local government decision that the place ought to be honored and protected in perpetuity. Local law typically forbids the demolition or serious alteration of such a place without a government permit. Since no city can afford to say no to all change and development, local governments are selective about the places that they designate as landmarks.

Inclusion in the National Register does not carry with it the same kinds of controls, because the federal government lacks the power to impose them. But the justification for including something in the Register is usually very similar to the rationale for local landmark designation. People typically nominate a place to the Register – actually fill out all the paperwork, as opposed to just regarding it as eligible – in order to highlight the place’s significance, to give it public honor in the hope of encouraging its permanent protection.

Eligibility for the Register does not does not entitle a place to actual protection like local designation does; it doesn’t even necessarily encourage it. Under Section 106, eligibility merely triggers consideration of a property when planning federal actions. The law has the modest purpose of making sure only that federal agencies don’t entirely ignore places that have some historic, cultural or architectural significance.

As a result of these distinctions, local landmark ordinances and Park Service policy for actually including things in the National Register both tend to be rather selective, while the net of eligibility is typically cast much more broadly. Governments usually feel the need for conservatism when it comes to designating a place for preservation, since doing so may exclude, or at least discourage, competing uses. But it is reasonable policy to consider everything that might be significant, with the clear understanding that everything thus considered will not be preserved.

The National Park Service has never distinguished clearly between the protective purposes of registration and the less protective planning reasons for recognizing a place as eligible. As an understandable result, some local governments have linked their landmarking practices to National Register eligibility. If the Feds says the place is eligible, the city reasons, then surely we at the local level ought to honor that determination by declaring it a landmark. Suddenly, a place entitled under Federal law only to consideration in planning becomes inviolable under local law. This, of course, can and does have serious implications for a historic property’s private owner or would-be developer.

This problem has nothing to do with Section 106, but a lot to do with the National Register. The Register tries to be both an honorific device, nomination to which encourages preservation, and a planning tool, eligibility for which triggers broad, flexible consideration by federal agencies in planning their actions. This attempt to be both fish and fowl is inevitably confusing, and the confusion can be costly.

But if the problem of local government misinterpretation has nothing to do with Section 106, the subcommittee’s draft solution is another matter. It would have profound effects on Section 106 practice, though there is room for debate about just what those effects would be.

The Effects of the Subcommittee’s Draft

The amendment that would make the eligibility of a place for the Register subject to property owner veto would put the owner of private property in the position to benefit from federal assistance while denying the federal government the ability to consider the effects of its actions on the broader public interest. It would be like saying that the owner of an industrial facility could prohibit public health officials from determining that the stuff coming out of the facility’s smokestack is toxic. The Coalition of 9/11 Families made the point succinctly, based on their direct experience with the owner of their own tragically special place:

If the property owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had the right to refuse to have the World Trade Center site declared eligible for the National Register—as the proposed amendments would allow—there would have been no consideration of how construction of their proposed new commercial/transportation projects would effectively destroy the location where our loved ones were murdered .

The amendment that would limit Section 106 consideration to properties included in or formally determined eligible for the National Register would have one of two effects. On the one hand, it might mean that an agency need not consider a place unless someone had already gotten it on record, by nominating it or somehow getting the Secretary of the Interior to determine it eligible. This would relieve federal agencies of the responsibility to identify historic properties subject to effect by their actions, transferring the task to the State Historic Preservation Officers and concerned public. It would effectively take us back to the days before President Nixon’s executive order, when agencies tried to discourage nominations and project opponents used nomination to try to halt projects. The Coalition of 9/11 Families has highlighted this danger, too:

The original World Trade Center was not listed on the National Register. None of the federal agencies involved, nor the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, would accede to our request that a formal determination of eligibility be made by the Secretary of the Interior. Requests from members of Congress went unheeded. It was only the requirement that
“eligible” properties be identified that caused the redevelopers of the World Trade Center site to consider our concerns. If only properties listed on the National Register had been considered during the Section 106 process, not only the Coalition, but every citizen who believes that September 11 was a transcendently significant event in our nation’s history would have suffered irreparable harm.

Alternatively, the amendment could be interpreted as not relieving agencies of their obligation to identify historic places subject to effect, but as requiring that, having found something it thought might be eligible, an agency would have to get its determination vetted by the Secretary of the Interior. This would be less problematic from the standpoint of historic preservation, but would considerably complicate the Section 106 process, and add at least a month or two to the handling of every Section 106 case, since paperwork would have to be prepared and sent to Interior, which would have to review it, make decisions, and promulgate its findings. Adding costly delays to the project planning process hardly seems consistent with the subcommittee’s seeming pro-development agenda.

A Different Solution

The battle over the draft amendments – in whatever form they eventually are introduced – is already taking on predictably partisan characteristics. This will doubtless continue. Democrats will support what they understand to be good preservation, as a reflection of concern for the environment and progressive social policy – which in this case will be taken to mean supporting the status quo. Republicans will back the amendments, because they are perceived to be pro-business. Those of us who’ve been around Washington for a few decades will groan and gird our loins for another dismal struggle over the wrong solutions to misperceived problems.

All this is unfortunate, because the status quo isn’t really very progressive, or even democratic, and because the proposed amendments aren’t necessarily going to do business much good but will do damage to America’s heritage, which Republicans traditionally have treasured. But the problems are real and ought to be addressed thoughtfully. Fixing Section 106 and the National Register shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

But if the draft amendments won’t do the trick, what will? There is probably no absolutely perfect solution, and there is room for lots of discussion about what a desirable end product might be, but I have a suggestion to offer, based on my almost forty years’ experience with the Section 106/National Register system.

Unfortunately, it is one that preservationists will probably find every bit as unpalatable as the subcommittee’s draft amendments, because it involves a significant change in the status quo – abandoning the National Register as the standard for what is considered under Section 106.

In virtually every Section 106 “problem case” I can think of, it has been wrangling over eligibility for the National Register that has complicated and delayed the process. Sometimes the complications and delays have been necessary and appropriate, because there was a serious conflict between a proposed action and a highly valued place. But often the argument has not been over a place that people greatly value, but over a place that no one actually gives a fig for, but that in theory might meet the Secretary of the Interior’s criteria for inclusion in the National Register. The dumpsite of the World War II construction debris; the jeep roads, the building that everyone agreed could come down, but that the State Historic Preservation Officer wasn’t prepared to evaluate. The really maddening, unjustified, wasteful arguments are over abstractions rather than over things that really matter.

Which, I believe, is inevitable when we try to impose a set of ostensibly objective, external evaluation criteria on phenomena whose significance is always subjective. Do the dump, or the roads, or the old house meet the National Register’s criteria for eligibility? Well, they may. The criteria are necessarily very broad – they have to embrace a huge range of kinds of places, significant for many reasons. So they feature factors like “association with significant events,” and representation of a “type.” Is the building debris in the dump associated with significant events? Well, sure – World War II. But how “associated” is the debris with the War? Plenty of room for argument. Are the jeep roads representative of a type? Sure: jeep roads are a type of road. But a property must also have “integrity” to be eligible, and perhaps the jeep roads have lost integrity because – well, because jeeps have driven on them. Or does that enhance their integrity? What about the dump site; does it have integrity? Not as a collection of World War II buildings, but as a dump? Maybe. A clever evaluator can make a plausible argument for the eligibility of almost any place – and conversely, can probably make a solid argument against it. If the evaluator has an axe to grind – he’s a State Historic Preservation Officer who’s irritated with the way an agency does business, or an agency archaeologist who feels disrespected by the pricy consultants the proponent has hired – he can extend the argument about eligibility almost indefinitely. Or the evaluator may simply be doing her job. After all, we’re supposed to evaluate with reference to the National Register’s criteria; we’d better check each criterion and consider whether, in theory, the place we’re looking at might meet it.

But if nobody cares about a place, why should we spend great amounts of time and money on figuring out whether it meets some abstract, hypothetical criteria? And while we’re going through the academic exercise of deciding whether the jeep roads are really good or not so good examples of jeep roads, are we, perhaps, missing places that people really do care about? Are we, perhaps, focusing so narrowly on technical criteria comprehensible only to professional archaeologists and historians that we fail to attend to the places that ordinary citizens treasure and want to protect?

And when you think about it, is it not strange that the core standard we ask a place to meet in order to be considered in planning is that it be judged significant by the Secretary of the Interior? Why should federal agencies worry about hurting places that the Secretary thinks are important? Would it not be more consistent with democratic principles for such agencies to be careful about places that American citizens think are important?

While Democrats are puzzling over that one, Republicans can ponder why, in a federal republic, it should be ultimately up to the central government to decide what is historically significant. Why not the states? Why not local interests? Why not the people?

Our problem, I believe, is that by focusing on the National Register as our single, universal measure of historical, cultural, and architectural significance, we involve ourselves in abstract questions that can be argued indefinitely, over places and issues that are often of marginal importance, while often ignoring the places and issues that American citizens actually care about. And we argue about these questions in the context of an intricate system that is impervious to citizens and project proponents alike, that can be managed only by bureaucrats and high-priced consultants.

So, my suggested solution is to effect a divorce between Section 106 and the National Register. The greatest strength of the Section 106 process, I believe, is in its emphasis on open multi-party consultation, aimed at reaching mutually satisfactory compromises between what is historically and culturally valuable and the other needs and interests of the nation and its people. Let’s keep that, and focus it away from places eligible for the National Register and on to dealing with impacts on places that people actually care about.

How would we do this? Legislatively, by removing the words “included in or eligible for the National Register” from Section 106 and inserting words describing the range of places that real live people think are significant. Including, for example:

• Places that a state, local, or Indian tribal cultural authority has designated;

• Places that consultation reveals to be valued by local people for historical or cultural reasons;

• Places that scholarly investigation (for example, during environmental impact analysis) shows to be important to current or reasonably justifiable future historical, archaeological, architectural, or other research, or to contain information important in such research that ought to be retrieved;

• And – why not? – places that the Secretary of the Interior has included in the National Register, but not those that are eligible for inclusion but fail to meet one of the above measures of actual significance.

Then through rulemaking, direct agencies in how to consult with people, and conduct honest analyses, to determine which places are actually significant and what can be done to manage impacts on them.

Such a change would refocus Section 106 consultation on the historic places that really count, and away from places that simply meet theoretical criteria. It would not keep arguments from occurring, but it would make it likely that the arguments would be about real issues, of real concern to real people, rather than over abstractions. And it would resolve the National Register’s split personality problem by eliminating its role as a broad planning tool. The Register could become something much more exclusive and protective, much more like a local landmarks list, whereupon it would no longer matter whether local governments decided to follow its lead in designating significant places. In other words, it would solve the problem the subcommittee’s amendments are actually designed to solve, as well as those that would be exacerbated by the amendments’ enactment.

A Friend said...

Dear SHPO Reviewers:

Last year you were given a bum steer by NCSHPO when your representatives executed the FCC's Nationwide Programmatic Agreement. There were many gems hidden among the pages and pages of bureacratic sputum of the PA and its accompanying Memorandum Opinion & Order. One of these occurs in page 4 of the "NT SUBMISSION PACKET – FCC FORM 620." There is an item FCC applicants are required to complete called "Project Status." The choices under this item for a "new" Section 106 review include options for the applicant to indicate when the tower under review was built and/or its construction status if work already has commenced. According to the National Trust for Historic Places there may be many thousands of existing towers for which FCC applicants have not fulfilled their Section 106 obligations and the owners find themselves needing Section 106 documentation to lease space for collocations on these non-compliant facilities.

So, here is the position SHPO reviewers have been placed in: You can either review the non-compliant towers in a sort of reverse-compliance process or you can forward the submittal to the FCC as a possible violation of Section X (e.g., Section 110(k) of NHPA) of the FCC PA. One senior telecom lawyer jokingly calls these towers "Lazarus Towers" which the companies are trying to bring back from the dead. So far, the joke has been on the historic preservation community and at its expense.

My recommendation to SHPO reviewers: Send the junk on to the FCC and let them sort out the mess they made. Don't waste your time and resources facilitating the blatant disregard for federal law and regulations.

Sincerely Yours,

A Friend of Historic Preservation

Lance Michael Foster said...

Yep, your "cow" example is right on. Animals can and should be considered a "contributing element." When I worked for the Cultural Landscapes Program of the Intermountain Support Office in Santa Fe in 1998, I did a CLI at the Lyndon Johnson Ranch, where a herd of prize cattle LBJ had developed and raised there were retained carefully, and as I recall, a branch of U of TX was part of a breeding strategy specifically involving the genetics of that particular herd, further supporting those particular cattle as a significant contributing element to the ranch AS A WORKING CATTLE RANCH. --Lance Foster