Heritage Rivers Initiative Draws Hail of Protests

Published August 1, 1997

A Clinton administration initiative said to be aimed at revitalizing the nation’s river communities has run into stiff opposition from property rights advocates who fear that beneath the sheepskin is the wolf of a federal land grab.

First announced with little fanfare in President Clinton’s State of the Union address in January, the American Heritage Rivers Initiative has encountered a buzz-saw of criticism in the hustings and in Congress. Clinton originally intended to implement the initiative on June 9, but a firestorm that spread from the grassroots to the Internet to the halls of Congress forced the administration to extend the public comment period for an additional 60 days.

Leading opposition to the initiative is Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho). Rep. Chenoweth has introduced H.R. 1842, which already has over 20 cosponsors, that would “terminate further development and implementation of the American Heritage Rivers Initiative.” “The very designation creates yet another obstacle, legal or not, and yet another tool for the use by environmental extremists to stop the wise use of our lands,” Rep. Chenoweth told the Washington Times.

What worries property rights advocates is the vague wording of the initiative which, they fear, could mean just what federal officials want it to mean. Documents supporting the initiative speak of “community vision,” “obstacles to community action,” and “implementing sustainable development within the river area.” To people hardened by last year’s creation by presidential fiat of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, the American Heritage Rivers Initiative has an all-too familiar ring about it.

The White House seems amazed that anyone would question its motives. Bombarded by thousands of phone calls in opposition to the initiative, White House officials admitted in a press release that Katie McGinty, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, was “bewildered and perplexed.”