The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 883 because the bill would unduly restrict the nomination of lands for designation under the World Heritage Convention, the Biosphere Reserve Program, and other international conservation agreements such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. If H.R. 883 is presented to the President, the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of State will recommend that he veto the bill.
H.R. 883 would prohibit federal officials from nominating sites under existing international conservation agreements without congressional authorization for each site. Local communities, in practice, initiate the nomination process; this congressional restriction could frustrate these attempts at local and global environmental cooperation, deprive these communities of significant economic benefits of international recognition, and jeopardize American participation in international scientific cooperative efforts.
The bill purportedly responds to the perception that international conservation agreements and programs infringe upon the national sovereignty of the United States, mandate land-use regimes, restrict private landowner rights, and exclude Congress or the public from the nomination and designation processes. On the contrary, these agreements:
- Promote voluntary participation. The World Heritage nomination process is voluntary and, where non-federal lands are affected, requires the affirmative concurrence of all non-federal owners. Moreover, the Department of the Interior notifies the appropriate congressional delegations and congressional committees of each World Heritage nomination. Similarly, participation in the U.S. Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Program is voluntary and requires approval by both public and private landowners. As for the 17 designations under the Ramsar Convention, all have been at the request of the local communities.
- Preserve U.S. national sovereignty. The World Heritage Convention and the Ramsar Convention expressly recognize that participation occurs within a context of full deference to national sovereignty. Similarly, the U.S. MAB Program charter does not grant international control over reserve lands; thus, American sovereignty over U.S. Biosphere Reserve lands cannot be compromised.
- Present new opportunities. Recognition as a World Heritage site, a U.S. Biosphere Reserve, or a Wetlands of International Importance does not impose legal requirements beyond those already contained in U.S. law, management requirements on public lands, or land-use or regulatory restrictions on private lands. Moreover, many local areas of the United States embrace recognition as a value-added designation that increases tourism, which is especially vital to local economies, and fosters environmental research.