The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is the steward of approximately 12 million acres of land and water at 456 water resources projects located in 43 states. This property consists of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, hundreds of reservoirs, 40,000 archeological sites, and 5,000 historic sites. These areas are comprised of various types of habitat that support a variety of fish and wildlife. The archeological and historic sites are significant to our cultural and historical heritage.
Benefits from the Corps Stewardship Program include those associated with managing natural resources in a healthy and sustainable condition, fostering healthy lands and waters by balancing public uses and needs, protecting our cultural heritage and providing public outdoor recreational opportunities. These efforts are performed in partnership with Federal, State and local government entities, quasi-public organizations, and the private sector and include state and federal fish hatcheries, state wildlife management areas, and federal wildlife refuges. As part of our ongoing effort to raise awareness about environmental issues, our staff provides hundreds of environmental education programs every year that reach millions of people.
Corps lands and waters provide thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue for local communities. More than 500 private concessionaires, with $1 billion in assets, provide support services and facilities at Corps lakes such as: marinas, bait shops, and grocery stores. Non-federal interests manage 42 percent of the recreation and natural resources areas. This includes: approximately 200 state wildlife management areas, 25 federal wildlife refuges, 50 state and federal fish hatcheries, and hundreds of state and local government parks.
One of the vexing problems the Corps has coped with since the first acre of land was purchased for a civil works project is the lack of an organic act, or public law, that authorizes the Chief of Engineers to manage Corps lands and waters for Environmental Stewardship (ES) purposes. This lack of clear legislative authority did not become a major issue until the mid-1960s. Prior to that, the Corps, as evidenced by the language in early Engineer Regulations, gave little thought to land management and probably had little need to be concerned. But as many more lakes became operational, and the public began to use the lakes in earnest, the lack of clear authority began to bubble up.
In the absence of an organic act, the Corps began to rely primarily on The Forest Conservation Act of 1960, and secondarily on other laws such as The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and later, The Clean Water Act of 1972 and The Endangered Species Act of 1973 as authorization for basic ES work. Conflicting the lack of clear authority is language in The Federal Water Project Recreation Act of 1965, PL 89-72, requiring cost sharing for recreation development and fish and wildlife enhancements. At times in the past this law has been interpreted to require cost sharing for basic stewardship. Fortunately, our predecessors in those early years of the ES business line (then known as the Natural Resources and Recreation Management Program) were steadfast in their intent to be good land stewards.
The very first regulation directed at management of natural resources, ER 1130-2-400 dated 28 May 1971, stated clearly that The principles of forest management, fish and wildlife management and related disciplines will be applied on a coordinated basis with the end objective of total ecological management. The language in PL 89-72 was used internally to challenge this view over the years, but with the publication of ER-1130-2-540, on 15 Nov 96, there is now much less debate about what is or is not environmental stewardship. We can be thankful for the handful of tough-minded natural resources professionals and a few key leaders who were the first to carry the ball for the Environmental Stewardship business line. An organic act is still needed, but in the absence of such an act, the Corps must continue to carefully define its environmental stewardship role and to be consistent in the application of ES responsibilities.
Corps water resource project have been authorized through several different Public Laws. It is important to know the Public Law that authorized the project(s) where you work. It would be wise to read the law and any published legislative history that may be applicable. Most early Corps projects were authorized by Flood Control Acts or River and Harbor Acts until 1974 when all such acts were consolidated under Water Resources Development Acts (WRDA). WRDAs are passed periodically. The specific law authorizing each project is typically cited in the opening paragraphs of most project master plans.
For Stewardship personnel, the project Real Estate Design Memorandums contain very valuable information. They describe the land acquisition policy/authority that was used and also describe unique situations encountered in the acquisition of lands and mineral estates. The various land acquisition policies that are applicable include:
- Pre-Eisenhower Policy for lands acquired prior to 1953
- Eisenhower Policy for lands acquired from 1953 to 1962
- Post-Eisenhower Policy, officially referred to as the Army-Interior Joint Land Acquisition Policy, from 1962 to present.
The pre-Eisenhower policy was similar to the post-Eisenhower policy in that fee title was acquired for most of the lands encompassed by the top of the flood control pool. The main difference was that the pre-Eisenhower policy encouraged the acquisition of more flowage easement in lieu of fee title and usually acquired the bare minimum needed for public access to park areas.
The Eisenhower policy generally restricted acquisition of fee title to approximately the five-year pool frequency with extra land acquired for park areas. The Eisenhower policy resulted in the acquisition of a large amount of flowage easement. It was also made retroactive for a number of earlier lakes causing a significant amount of fee-owned land to be reconveyed to former owners. Ultimately, Congress determined the Eisenhower policy to be inadequate as shoreline erosion began to chew into private lands at many lakes.
The post-Eisenhower policy results in the most fee title acquisition of any of the three policies and is decidedly more favorable to public recreation and fish & wildlife management purposes.