What is NHPA?

worm plot NHPA national regiter Assateague Lighthouse
Original Worm plots used by Rachel Carson during her important DDT research. The plots, located on Patuxent Research Refuge, are eligible for National Register listing.
Credit USFWS
National Register of Historic Places plaque that is placed on historic buildings that have been successfully nominated to the Register, a cornerstone of the NHPA.
Credit: NPS
Lighthouse at Chincoteague NWR, managed via the NHPA process and National Register listed and a major asset to one of the most visited Refuges in the Nation.
Credit USFWS

Prior to the establishment of national preservation policy, early preservation was more of a grassroots effort by citizen groups interested in the protection of historically significant sites in their community. One of the first historic preservation efforts in the nation was the protection of Mount Vernon. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, founded in 1853 by Ann Pamela Cunningham, raised $200,000 to buy the estate. This association still owns and maintains Mount Vernon today.

Important historic preservation landmarks prior to NHPA:
1906 Antiquities Act
1916 Establishment of the National Park Service
1935Historic Sites Act - Historic American Buildings Survey
1949 Creation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
1963Seminar on

Another high-profile historic preservation project is the restoration of colonial Williamsburg by A. R. Goodman. Starting in the 1920’s under the sponsorship of John D. Rockefeller Jr., the process of returning the town the its 18th century appearance is a prime example of historically accurate reconstruction.

The historic preservation movement gained momentum in the years following World War II. It was during this time that the construction of the interstate highway system and the urban renewal program rapidly increased the rate at which our nation's cultural heritage was being destroyed. One of the major catalysts for the movement was the downfall of New York’s original Penn Station. This architectural jewel was designed in the Beaux-Arts style and featured a waiting room that was based on the Roman Baths of Caracalla. Due to the decrease in train use in the 1850’s, the train station was scheduled for demolition. Despite public outcries for the preservation of the structure, the original Penn Station was demolished in 1963.

As first Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House restoration project was responsible for bringing historic preservation into the mainstream. Millions of Americans viewed the newly restored rooms of the executive mansion in the television special, A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy, which premiered on Valentine day of 1962. During the Johnson administration, Lady Bird Johnson built upon this momentum with her campaign to beautify America’s public spaces. Through her efforts to make the preservation of natural and cultural resources a national priority, she became a key figure in the passage of the NHPA.

By 1964, historic preservation had grown in public interest and the need for a new historic preservation law had become readily apparent. With this goal in mind, a small group of preservationists convinced the U.S. Conference of Mayors to create a Special Committee on Historic Preservation. This committee travelled abroad to study how various European countries went about preserving their heritage. The resulting 1966 report “With Heritage So Rich,” outlined the value of our nation’s cultural and historic resources and the need for a new historic preservation law to protect these resources.

The National Historic Preservation act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 15th, 1966. By requiring agencies to develop historic preservation programs and policies, this legislation provides a legal framework for the protection of our country’s historic structures and sites. Among other things, the NHPA established several institutions including:

  1. Advisory Council for Historic Preservation
  2. National Register of Historic Places
  3. Section 106 Process

As a result of NHPA, there are currently over 100 properties on Fish and Wildlife Service land that are listed on the National Register!

What it means to the FWS?

Section 1 of the National Historic Preservation Act, Pub. L. No. 89-665, as amended by Pub. L. No. 96-515:

...the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people;

The preservation of America's heritage is imperative because it provides us with a connection to our past. Although the mission of the USFWS is to “work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people,” the natural can’t really ever be divorced from the cultural.  The structures and sites that the FWS is responsible for preserving tell the stories of the people that lived there and the way that they used the land. Visitors can learn about our country’s cattle ranching heritage on the frontier at the Historic Sod House ranch on Malheur NWR, see endangered pupfish in a warm-water spring right by a cabin that was inhabited by a renowned gunslinger by the name of Jack Longstreet on Ash Meadows NWR, and see the worm plots on Patuxent National Research Refuge where environmental science was forever changed. Therefore, the places that the FWS works to protect and conserve form a part of our collective identity as Americans.

The FWS has created trading cards to commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of NHPA and all of the great historic preservation work that has taken place on FWS land since the bill was signed. Four series of cards were produced to address different aspects and results of the act including:

  1. significant historic properties on FWS land
  2. NHPA fun facts
  3. Section 106 take home points
  4. the archaeologists of the FWS

Click here to get your own set of FWS trading cards!

106 Success stories; ‘Teaching the Present About the Past

For the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is recognising Section 106 success stories. FWS is represented on the list with the replica Cathlapotle Plankhouse at Ridgefield NWR.

Cathlapotle Plank Houses;
During their expedition in 1806, Lewis and Clark passed one of the largest Chinook villages along the Missouri river, known as Cathlapotle. They wrote in their Expedition Journal about their first pass of the Chinook village;
…I observed on the Chanel which passes on the Stard Side of this Island a Short distance above its lower point is Situated a large village, the front of which occupies nearly ¼ of a mile fronting the Chanel, and closely Connected, I counted 14 houses in front here the river widens to about 1 ½ miles…” (Clark, November 5, 1805).

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) purchased a farm containing Cathlapotle that was to become part of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). To maintain compliance with Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) the USFWS needed to identify and protect this historic property on their newly acquired land. The  existence of the village was known, but not the exact location, so a partnership was established with the Chinook Tribe, Portland State University, and former landowners. Together they were able to identify 6 locations of former plankhouses. An archaeological excavation took place and from this came a wealth of knowledge about the Chinookan people who occupied this area for centuries. Today Cathlapotle is one of the few surviving archaeological sites along the lower Columbia River.

In time for the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the USFWS in collaboration with Portland State University, the Washington State Historic Preservation Office, Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Committee and over 100 local volunteers, a reproduction plankhouse was built to make the history of the area and tribes accessible to visitors of the Ridgefield NWR. Education through site visits run by the Friends group and the Discover Cathlapotle environmental and heritage education kits has continued visitor education about the area’s rich history.

The Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is the not-for-profit group that supports the Refuge in many ways including Plankhouse programming.  Workshops, lectures, demonstrations, hands-on student experiences, and cultural events interpret and emphasize the tangible connection between environment and people.

For more information and to read the story of the Cathlapotle Plankhouse visit; http://www.achp.gov/docs/Section106SuccessStory_Cathlapotle.pdf or visit the Ridgefield NWR webpage and read more about the history of the Cathlapotle http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Ridgefield/visit/Cathlapotle_Plankhouse.html

Plum and Pilot Island Lighthouses
            Plum and Pilot Islands are located in the narrow passage known as Porte de Morts (‘Death’s Door’), between Door County, Wisconsin and Washington Island on Lake Michigan. These islands are part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge complex. The Porte de Morts passage holds a significant role in the maritime and transportation history of Wisconsin. The lighthouses and life-saving station built on Plum and Pilot Islands aided ships in what was often considered a perilous journey across this passage of Lake Michigan. In 1849 the U.S. Lighthouse Service built a lighthouse on the southeast side of Plum Island which was later abandoned and in 1858 a new lighthouse dwelling was built on Pilot Island. By 1897 additions were made on Plum Island due to the inaccessibility of Pilot Island during storms and heavy fog. These additions included a larger lighthouse and a brick keepers quarters on the south shore, as well as a life-saving station on the north side, which is the sole surviving example of a Duluth-Type life-saving station on the Great Lakes. Aside from the life-saving station and lighthouse on Plum Island there are eleven total structures as well as three structures on Pilot Island, each with their own important history.

In 2007 Plum and Pilot Islands were transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The islands were acquired to protect additional migratory bird and endangered species habitat in the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem.

Most recently the Green Bay NWR and the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands (F.O.P.P.I) began a project to open up the island to visitors and provide the public with unique opportunities for recreation, education, and interpretation. F.O.P.P.I. raised money to help fund the preservation, protection, and promotion of the historical resources on Plum and Pilot Islands to create an opportunity to integrate history and local community traditions and values into refuge interpretive and education programs, as well as promote the wildlife habitat of the Green Bay NWR. The During the summer of 2013, the USFWS partnered with Hamline University and conducted archaeological excavations on Plum Island to find the foundational remains of the lighthouse built in 1849 and a possible Potawatomi village said to have been on the island. In addition to uncovering the foundations of the original lighthouse, the recent excavations also unearthed artifacts deposited by the family that occupied the lighthouse.  Furthermore, a plan between the Green Bay NWR and the F.O.P.P.I. group are in place to extend the walking trail and place.

Preserve America
Executive order 13287
Historic properties are valuable resources that generate public interest, support local economies, and can support the missions of the agencies responsible for their protection. 87. Our nation’s commitment to the federal stewardship of historic properties was reaffirmed by Executive Order 1132, Preserve America. This EO supports the preservation of our nation’s cultural heritage by promoting intergovernmental cooperation and encouraging partnerships in local communities. Much of the preservation work done on FWS land was made possible by the dedication of our many friends groups and partners. Furthermore, EO 13287 establishes a system that promotes better accountability for the identification, use, and protection of historic properties. Therefore, Preserve America reaffirms the FWS’s commitment to the preservation of cultural and historic resources and establishing them as part of the community and, more broadly, our national identity.


Region 3; An Urban Outreach Initiative - Reconstructing the Cedar Avenue Bridge

The Old Cedar Avenue bridge was built in 1920 and spans Long Meadow Lake, an overflow of the Minnesota river. For years this bridge was the only means of crossing the Minnesota River until 1979 when the new Cedar bridge was constructed. Residents living south of the river used this narrow bridge for automobile transportation up until early 1990, and eventually, only pedestrian and bike traffic were permitted. The Old Cedar bridge was finally closed to all pedestrian and bike traffic in 2002 and with that came the motivation for restoration of this historic bridge currently listed on the National Register. There currently is a high demand from the public for more bike lanes, hiking trails and outdoor recreation which was another trigger for this project. The Service’s project to open up the surrounding habitat, trail reconstruction and observation decks stems from the Urban Refuge Program and the desire to make this a welcoming gateway to the refuge for a more urban audience then the refuge traditionally hosts.

The project didn’t come without its share of obstacles, primarily, the cost to do a restoration instead of a tearing it down and reconstructing a new bridge. The City of Bloomington received a lot of help from partners and the state legislature to fund the project. Bids came in high but the city found internal funding to keep the project going. Additionally, during utility relocation, a internet fiber cable snapped while drilling to place the fiber causing delays to construction. The fiber rods had to be removed and the drilling restarted, the work will begin on the actual bridge soon.

The anticipated outcomes of this project include; a new accessible loop trail, a rehabbed observation deck and other related habitat work to the Minnesota Valley NWR. Plus, the existing parking lot will be repaved, and new signage will be added. Restrooms will be added as well as repaving the entrance road and adding a bike lane to it. This will provide a much more welcoming gateway to the refuge and Minnesota river. The area will feel more open with the improved observation areas, which leads to a greater sense of safety. Similarly the project aided in a lot of invasive species reduction work, provides a new accessible experience, and helps meet transportation asset improvements. However, the City of Bloomington is managing the bridge project which will connect residents and visitors to both sides of the Minnesota River as well as provide a great wildlife observation opportunity from the bridge itself. It preserves a historic structure which was doomed for failure due to neglect. The entire project is set to be completed by next fall.

For more information on the Old Cedar Bridge project, visit; http://oldcedarbridge.com/

Fred; The Cultural Resources Database
Most recently, the USFWS has adopted an online cultural resources database called “Fred”. The purpose of this database is to facilitate the storage of data and retrieval of information pertaining to cultural resources and museum property managed by the FWS, as well as the projects and documents associated with these resources.  Fred is still in its infancy so there is much work to be done, however, this is a beginning to more easily maintain compliance with section 106 and section 110 of the NHPA when an USFWS undertaking arises. Fred allows the Regional Historic Preservation Officer (RHPO) to quickly search for cultural resources and past projects in order to improve the project review process. Similarly, the reporting of museum property holdings at Federal and Non-Federal repositories can be compiled and sent to Washington, DC headquarters with ease.

 Over the past two years, Region 3 RHPO, James Myster, has employed interns from Hamline University to help find data on archaeological and historic sites as well as region specific museum property at Federal and Non-Federal repositories. They have been part of the process of pioneering the museum property module of Fred and entering data to track sites throughout the midwest region. Work is also being done to add Ginger as a sister-database that will allow for searchable GIS map locations of sites on USFWS land.