ACHP Policy Statement on Balancing Cultural and Natural Values on Federal Lands (2002)

December 20, 2002


Federal management of publicly owned lands requires balancing natural and cultural values. This policy statement details the ACHP’s approach to resource management and conflict resolution on federally owned public lands in order to achieve balance between natural and cultural values. This ACHP policy affirms the importance of responsible Federal stewardship of historic properties located within natural areas.

ACHP Policy Statement on Balancing Cultural and Natural Values on Federal Lands

ACHP [Advisory Council on Historic Preservation] seeks to promote an approach to resource management and conflict resolution on Federally owned public lands that achieves balance between natural and cultural values. ACHP affirms the importance of responsible Federal stewardship of historic properties located within natural areas; and encourages Federal land managers to recognize that cultural and natural values are often interrelated and should therefore be considered in an integrated manner, to ensure that cultural values are afforded equal consideration.

State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, Federal Agencies, and others who participate in the Section 106 consultation process, Federal Agency planning processes and National Environmental Policy Act compliance process are encouraged to use these principles as a framework for Section 106 and Section 110 consultation.


ACHP will, and other participants in the Section 106 review process for Federal agency resource management should, be guided by the following principles in applying the policy set forth:

  1. Identify potential conflicts early.
    • Where potential conflicts are deemed to exist, early attention to such problems is essential. Full study of the potentially competing resources through land management planning processes or other land management initiatives can lead to improved outcomes before damage to the resources becomes irremediable.
    • Demolition by neglect should be discouraged and should occur only as a direct result of management decisions made in the context of long-range planning with full public involvement. Such planning initiatives should be coordinated so that impacts to the environment and to historic properties can be addressed comprehensively.
  2. Differentiate between real and perceived conflicts.
    • Assumptions are often made about conflicts among competing resource values without adequate analysis of the actual effects of such resources on one another. Is the ecosystem or natural area in fact threatened by the presence of historic properties?
    • To confront this question in the context of Section 106 consultation, a full understanding of the resources is needed before practical considerations can be realistically evaluated. How are the historic areas to be used? How will they be accessed? What infrastructure is necessary for continued use? Within the range of feasible alternatives, is it possible to preserve resource values intact?
  3. Recognize that competing values involve competing constituencies.
    • Consultation with both environmental advocates and historic preservationists should be integrated rather than divided by resource type.
    • While planning initiatives may legitimately focus on subjects of interest only to one of these advocacy categories, scheduling separate planning initiatives should take into consideration the interrelatedness of natural and cultural values as represented in a given area of consideration.
    • Where values are in conflict, natural and cultural resource planning should be undertaken in concert.
  4. Broaden understanding of all affected resources.
    • When approaching questions of historical significance, build upon National Register criteria as commonly applied to historic properties by drawing upon a wide range of scholarship in the agency's evaluative and interpretive frameworks. How do the agency's cultural landscapes illustrate the continuum of human life? To what degree does the potentially affected area itself embody the qualities of a heritage resource? Would interpretation of the area's associated cultural traditions enrich understanding of the values inherent in the area?
    • Consideration should be given to the changing demographics of visitorship to public lands in the new millennium, and the likelihood that new visitors will bring different interests and perspectives to their public land visitation experience.
  5. Recognize that acknowledgment of barriers is a first step toward problem-solving when cultural and natural values compete.
    • A host of real-world problems often contributes to a perception that natural and cultural values cannot be reconciled. For instance, the presence of private in-holdings or leaseholds within Federal land boundaries may result in high sensitivity and strained relations between the agency and the private property owner. Often, these retained private property rights differ substantially from those of the average user.
    • Another commonly cited barrier is that requirements of the Wilderness Act, which are recognized to be quite prescriptive, are used for management of many ecologically significant areas within the Federal inventory, whether or not these lands are formally designated as wilderness. A common belief that the legal mandates of wilderness protection supersede those of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) is often contradicted by Federal agency management policies that allow a more balanced approach, while still adhering to the mandates of the Wilderness Act.
    • A final barrier to full consideration of historic preservation options is a perception that preserving the natural environment is more cost effective than preserving historic properties. Yet costs should be viewed in the context of a multitude of factors and with recognition that costs may be greater if neglect has already occurred, or if labor-intensive methods must be relied upon due to restricted access.
  6. Consider full range of feasible alternatives when cultural and natural values interrelate.
    • Section 106 review and NEPA are both intended to be used as decision-making processes. All too often, however, managers view these procedures as a method for seeking approval for a planning direction rather than a mechanism for formulating one. The consultation process breaks down quickly when decisions have been resolved in favor of a particular course of action prior to conducting a more comprehensive discussion.
    • Paramount to the successful resolution of competing interests between natural and cultural resources is the commitment to examine alternate methods for implementing an undertaking. The stronger the ability of a land manager to consider a full range of alternatives to a proposed action, the greater the chances will be of discovering a resolution that addresses both cultural and natural concerns.
  7. Use an integrated approach to Section 106 review, Section 110, NEPA, land management planning, and other authorities (such as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act), as a method of reaching the broadest range of the interested public.
    • Planning for a wide range of resources in consultation with the interested public can lead to conflicts among the respective constituencies unless all such processes are interconnected. For instance, once a land management plan is completed, the interested public considers the Federal government to have a "contract" with those whose views informed it. If Section 106 issues are not adequately addressed at this stage, not only would amendments be called for, but any necessary departure from the plan may be perceived as a broken promise, regardless of the merits of the decision.
  8. Consult with Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations on the full range of cultural and natural values.
    • Federal agencies are required to ensure adequate awareness and consideration of the interest of Indian tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations in Federally owned resources or areas they deem of religious or cultural significance. In doing so, agencies must adequately recognize tribes' status as sovereign nations.
    • Many times the interests of tribes do not focus merely on cultural resources as defined by the National Register of Historic Places but include a broad array of issues including natural and cultural values. In fact, the very concept of separating out cultural concerns from natural interests when assessing the merits of a particular action is unconscionable to many tribes and Native Hawaiians. Since Indian tribes tend to view cultural and natural resource values as inextricably linked, rather than in conflict, land managers should pay particular attention to their views when considering these issues.
  9. Consider historic values when planning for the unexpected.
    • Natural disasters should be planned for to ensure that damage to both cultural and natural resources is minimized when disaster strikes.
    • Advance preparation for unanticipated effects to known historic properties and discoveries of previously unknown historic properties during the course of implementing project or routine management activities allows for timely consideration of any such effects. When considered in the course of routine land management planning, future emergency actions will not only be consistent with principles of sound management but will also reflect the outcome of consultation with the interested public.
    • Because actions taken to respond to disasters or emergencies can be as destructive as the disaster itself, planning for such situations can mitigate damage and thereby achieve outcomes that reinforce an agency's commitment to balanced stewardship at a time when values inherent in the land are most threatened.