The US has been particularly successful to date in avoiding the creation of "Buffer Zones" around its WHS. Below I report on the history to date and consider the current situation
We know from the 2008 paper No 25 on Buffer Zones (previous post) that none of the 20 sites inscribed by USA up to 1995 originally included a "Buffer Zone" or had incorporated one up to that date (Page 149 "While none of the existing World Heritage sites in the United States includes an official buffer zone, a few sites have established "areas of cooperation" around them under the auspices of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere programme
"). But what has happened subsequently? Since the tightening of requirements for Buffer Zones which has taken place in the Operational Guidelines (OG) since 1995, most countries have carried out at least a degree of "catch up" to define Buffer zones for previously inscribed sites and have also incorporated the requirement into the vast majority of new nominations – to what extent has the USA followed suit?
Regarding "catch up" - the main source I have discovered are the statements made in the "Periodic Reporting Second Cycle" submitted for the 2013 WHC (See http://whc.unesco.org/en/eur-na/
). The procedures for this 6 yearly reporting require the completion by the States Party of a series of standard sections setting out the state of preservation of each site. Several questions relate specifically to the status of the "Buffer Zone" and actions which need to be taken to enhance it. Such questions "flush out" the silence on the matter which has existed since inscription and force a response! NB - the document is completed by the States Party and not by ICOMOS, IUCN or UNESCO. However, in all cases, these documents appear to have been accepted by UNESCO without further questioning or the identification of further actions. The US sites inscribed up to 1995 fit into 1 of 3 categories in this respect -
a. Sites whose report states that "There is no buffer zone and none is required"
. There are 14 - Mesa Verde, Yellowstone, Everglades, Gt Smoky, La Fortaleza, Statue of Liberty, Mammoth, Olympic, Yosemite, Chaco, Hawaii Volcanoes, Monticello, Carlsbad and Grand Canyon. The same situation was reported for 2 other sites together with some further comment - Independence Hall – "Although the site does not have a formal buffer zone, the low scale and open setting of the national historical park that surrounds Independence Square effectively provides equivalent protection"
and Cahokia – "The property owned by the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site beyond the World Heritage Site boundaries but inside the US National Historic Landmark boundaries function as an informal buffer area for the World Heritage Site."
b. Sites which have not yet carried out their "Periodic Reporting" - Redwood, Waterton and Glacier Parks (Incidentally, the Canadian part of the latter 2 Trans-national sites also lack a buffer zone). So we have no extra information about them regarding buffer zones
c. Sites whose report states "No buffer zone, but there is a need for one"
. Only Taos was in this category and promised that "Taos Pueblo will work with the NPS to determine a process to establish a buffer zone and possibly expand the boundaries of the World Heritage Site to include the Blue Lake Wilderness Area - the buffer zone would be a first step toward designation"
Following the inscriptions of Carlsbad and Waterton in 1995, the USA had a long period with no nominations – during which the OG significantly tightened the requirements for Buffer Zones. When it "restarted" in 2010 the US addressed the matter in each nomination as follows -
a. Papahanaumokuakea (Inscribed 2010)"The nominated property has no buffer zone, as it is in an extremely remote region and its boundaries have been set at 50 nautical miles (~100km) out over open sea from each of the islands and atolls...... ICOMOS considers that the boundaries of the nominated property and of its buffer zone are adequate"
b. Mount Vernon (Nominated and deferred 2010)
"The buffer zone covers 159ha and comprises property owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, which is used for a variety of functions related to the mission of the organization, i.e. passive use as a forested buffer between the historic area and adjoining residential developments, meadows and fields for livestock grazing, and areas that have been set aside for operational and visitor-related functions. .... The inclusion of the proposed buffer zone in the nominated property might be a way to reinforce the understanding of the mansion farm as one component of a much larger plantation landscape"
c. Poverty Point (Inscribed 2014)"No buffer zone is proposed. The State Party holds that the existing physical buffers and the stable agricultural character of the setting as well as the legal framework in place, which affords adequate protection to the nominated property, are, taken together, factors that make a buffer zone unnecessary
"..... " ICOMOS therefore considers that, in conformity with paragraph 104 of the Operational Guidelines, an area surrounding the nominated property with complementary formalized regulatory mechanisms concerning its use and development should be defined to give an added layer of protection to the nominated property. "This should include [its] immediate setting, important views and other areas or attributes that are functionally important as a support to the property and its protection". The buffer zone should be determined through appropriate mechanisms to ensure the effectiveness of the envisaged protection. ICOMOS' view, the existence of a buffer zone would prevent possible further damage arising from privately-driven agricultural or development activities and facilities but would also allow for future contiguous archaeological research"
d. San Antonio Missions (Nominated for 2015)"The boundary of the nominated serial property coincides with the publicly owned property of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and of the Alamo Complex. The total area is 296.2 hectares (731.9 acres). A buffer zone surrounds the nominated property following the boundaries set up in the various city ordinances, including Rio Overlay Districts 3-6, Mission Historic District, River South Management Area, and the Alamo Historic District. The buffer zone runs from Travis Street in the north to Camino Coahuilteca on the south, Presa Street on the east and Mission Road and Roosevelt Ave on the west. The total area of the buffer zone is 1,828.8 hectares (4,519.1 acres).
" (Nomination File Summary - http://www.missionsofsanantonio.org/assets/san-antonio-missions---world-heritage-_toc _executive-.pdf
So – what can be concluded from all this?
a. The US appears to have been successful in arguing that nearly all of its inscriptions up to 1995 have no need of a Buffer Zone. Its main argument seems to be that, since the properties are in Government ownership the legal protections are adequate and that a buffer zone wouldn't add anything – in so doing it no longer seems to be trying to use the "Areas of cooperation" argument used in the above-cited Paper 25. It seems to have achieved acceptance of this argument irrespective of whether the site is a "National Park" (the majority) or a "lesser" entity (E.g Cahokia is a "State Historic site") and also whether it is a large natural site which could be argued to include adequate "buffer" within its boundaries or whether it is a smaller site within a city (e.g Independence Hall – whose argument that it is an "open setting" seems particularly weak!). Whether other "developed" countries such as Germany, Australia etc who have accepted the need to have buffer zones in their "equivalent" sites would accept that their legal framework is so much "weaker" in these respects than that of the USA is another matter!! This would appear to be an example of "US exceptionalism" to which UNESCO has bowed, rather than dig in its heels on a relatively "minor" matter with possible unforeseeable results (all sites being put "in danger"/removed from the list/USA leaving the Convention etc etc!)
b. The one early inscription where the need for a buffer zone appears to have been conceded is that of Taos Pueblo. This site, and its surrounding lands, are of course owned by the "Self governing Indian (sic) Community" of Taos Pueblo. That presumably is why the need for a buffer zone has been conceded! To date, however, nothing seems to have happened in creating one.
c. Since the recommencement of nominations in 2010 the US has been forced at least to address the issue in their documents. That for Papahanaumokuakea was able to adopt the same arguments used by UK in the case of Gough and Henderson Islands – namely that an entirely sea-based buffer zone beyond the official boundary which is already way out in the ocean is irrelevant.
d. However, the issue could not be so easily side-stepped in the case of Mount Vernon – it is owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association (MVLA) and therefore has different legal protection than a State or Federally owned site. But of course the lands outside the site are owned by ordinary US citizens who would be unlikely all to accept that they should be subject to buffer zone restrictions! The way round this was to identify a bit of the site owned by the MVLA and designate it as "Buffer Zone". Unfortunately it only ran along one side of the site and didn't impress ICOMOS who, in any case, regarded this land as being an essential part of any inscribed area. The issue never had to be pressed to a conclusion however since the site had other problems regarding OUV etc which the US has not, to date, pursued.
Continued in next post