Conservation USA

Budget cuts force closure of historic preservation programme

But Obama administration pours money into land conservation and recreation

A treasure that was saved: The Mount, author Edith Wharton's former home in Lenox, Massachusetts, received 2.9m from SAT in 1999, which served as the "springboard" to raise over $12m for restoration

WASHINGTON, DC. Federal budget cuts forced the closure of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Save America’s Treasures (SAT) office in July. SAT had provided more than $315m in funding for historic preservation since 1999. US Congress does not plan to renew funding.

“Save America’s Treasures was a model public-private partnership that invested record amounts to preserve the icons of our democracy,” said Bobbie Greene McCarthy, the former SAT director at the national trust. “Its demise is a terrible loss to our country. We were only asking for $5m to keep things going,” she added.

This recent budget cut does not save dollars in terms of tax revenue. “The SAT appropriation comes out of the Historic Preservation Fund, which is funded by outer continental oil lease revenues, not taxes,” said Hampton Tucker, the chief of the Historic Preservation Grants Division, National Park Service.

While the SAT closure is seen by some as a blemish on the Obama administration’s interest in historic preservation, on 11 August, the US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $100m toward the Floridian Everglades restoration under the Wetlands Reserve Program. That funding will go to ranchers to relinquish development rights to as much as 24,000 acres northwest of Lake Okeechobee and preserve them under permanent conservation easements. The same day, Vilsack announced $21.8m in additional funding to help eligible farmers and ranchers in Wyoming conserve the Greater Sage-grouse habitat. Then on 16 August, Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, announced his department will pump more than $43.1m into conservation and recreation improvement projects in Nevada.

SAT has a long history of providing grants for historic preservation. In 2010, a total of 113 grants were awarded. “SAT grants were matched dollar for dollar and were a spark for community development,” said Greene McCarthy.

The National Park Service continues to administer the SAT grant programme with over 500 grants awarded between 2006-10 that are still active. With no funding, there are no new applications.

Stephanie Meeks, the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, refused requests for an interview.

“The closure of SAT is disheartening,” said Susan Wissler, the executive director of The Mount, author Edith Wharton’s former home in Lenox, Massachusetts. “It’s the major public funding source for important historic buildings and homes.”

SAT gave $2.9m to The Mount in 1999, which started their restoration efforts. “It was the springboard for the raising of over $12m to restore The Mount,” said Wissler. The classical revival house, designed by Wharton with Ogden Codman, Jr in 1902, is nestled in gardens landscaped by Beatrix Farrand. “I’m not overstating it that probably The Mount would have been lost save for SAT,” said Wissler. Attendance in 1999 was 6,000 and has risen to over 30,000.

The preservation programme was also involved in funding art museums. In February, SAT awarded a $250,000 grant to the National Historic Landmark building that houses the 1874 Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum dedicated to American contemporary decorative arts.

Other grants have been awarded to founding museums of historical importance. The SAT gave a $150,000 grant to the creation of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, which turned into a $26m project.

“With the closing of SAT, the nation lost a considerable resource but also is now missing that critical spokesperson for preservation,” said Wissler.

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