Blog: Antiquities Act is in Dire Need of Support

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Pam Linn

Ever since its inception in 1906, U.S. Presidents have used the Antiquities Act to designate as National Monuments such American wonders as the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons and Zion, one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever visited.

Over the years, congress has designated many of these 157 monuments as National Parks for their scientific value or sheer natural beauty.

Now, under the misleading title, National Monument Creation and Protection Act, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is attempting to put severe restrictions on the ability of presidents to make such designations. As chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Bishop has pushed this proposal through without the notice of many house members.

Here in Montana, where wild lands, trails and natural beauty are considered sacrosanct, an organization called Hold Our Ground just took out a full page advertisement in the local paper notifying all citizens of the state to call their Republican senators and representatives and tell them to leave the Antiquities Act and our national monuments alone.

The ad included the Washington telephone numbers of Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte, both of whom have said they back this act that would strip protection from the Upper Missouri River Breaks and other national monuments in this state.

It should be noted that these designated monuments belong not to the states but to all U.S. residents.

A little history: Rep. Gianforte was elected last spring to replace Ryan Zinke when he was tapped by President Donald Trump to be Secretary of the Interior. 

Under the existing act, 850 million acres are protected in 27 states, including 10 in California. However, under Bishop’s proposal, the Antiquities Act would cap new designations at 85,000 acres, cover only “objects of antiquity” (not natural and scientific wonders now eligible) and would require the approval of counties, states and governors for designations over 10,000 acres. 

Many national monuments such as the Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons would not have qualified under these limits, according to a recent article in the LA Times.

The federal government is already required to consult with local communities and stakeholders when a monument decision is being considered. Washington should consider the desires and needs of affected regions, but that’s not the same thing as giving local government effective veto power over what the federal government can do with federal lands, according to the LA Times..

A recent op-ed piece in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle by Paradise Valley resident Melynda Harris was written after she and her family traveled to 12 countries and hiked many trails. “(It) gave me such an appreciation for one of the things that makes the U.S. so great—wild places. Wild places are intrinsic to making us who we are. Americans made a conscious decision to value wild places and set them aside. We invented the national park. And Wilderness with a capital W.”

Our public lands are increasingly under threat in the U.S., she wrote, and I agree. She also mentions the unfortunate reassignment of Forest Service employee Alex Sienkiewicz, who nearly lost his job with the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s Yellowstone District after the ranger stood up for public lands access. Whatever happened to freedom of speech?

Anyway, it behooves all of us to stay aware of what’s going on in Washington. I know it can be difficult when important things are quietly announced on Friday afternoons. I suppose they hope to slip these notices in when no one is paying attention. But we must stay alert if we hope to avoid such nastiness.

For those who are interested, messages for Sen. Steve Daines may be left at 202.224.2651 and for Rep. Greg Gianforte at 202.225.3211 (or Google your state’s representatives). Just say that you strongly oppose all efforts to limit the Antiquities Act, as in its present form it has been a stunning success.