There it was, a bit over halfway through the 111-page America's Great Outdoors report: how President Barack Obama could use the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments through presidential proclamation.
While some Republicans on the House Natural Resource Committee have feared the president would designate new monuments without any public input, the report released last week clearly indicated transparency would be in play when and if President Obama felt the need to designate any monuments. Indeed, the report specifically calls for public input as to where, and why, monuments should be created.
Engage the public to identify and recommend potential sites on existing federal lands for protection under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Historically, the Antiquities Act is one of the most important tools to achieve national conservation goals. The areas designated under the Antiquities Act by 14 presidents since 1906 include some of the most inspiring and unusual natural and historic features in America. Examples are Olympic National Park in Washington, Devils Tower in Wyoming, the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Statue of Liberty in New York City, and the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii.
It was just about a year ago that Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Washington, and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, were questioning the administration's intentions concerning designation of national monuments.
Rep. Hastings, at the time the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee and now chairman of that committee, and Rep. Bishop, then the ranking member on the committee's national parks subcommittee and now chairman of it, released a handful of pages of an administration document that pointed to 17 landscapes from Colorado to Alaska that President Obama potentially could set aside as national monuments under the Antiquities Act.
Those 17 areas ranged from Cedar Mesa and the San Rafael Swell in Utah and the Red Desert in Wyoming and Vermillion Basin in Colorado to the Berryessa Snow Mountains in California and the Bristol Bay Region in Alaska as candidates for monument status.
Now, at the time Reps. Hastings and Bishop charged that the administration was not providing the transparency that the president had promised when he took office and that the internal review of such documents "deliberately prevents local citizens most affected by a designation from having an opportunity to be heard before lands where they live and work to support their families are closed to productive use. There is no legitimate reason that land use decisions cannot be made in an open matter that allows for public participation."
Now, whether it was in reaction to that criticism, or part of the plan all along, the topic of national monuments came up often during the 51 listening sessions the administration held last year to gather input for the resulting America's Great Outdoors report. According to that report, "(D)uring listening sessions, strong support was voiced for the designation of unique places as national monuments as an important way to preserve critical elements of the American landscape and cultural heritage."
And, at the same time, some of those who attended the listening sessions "expressed concern that potential designations would circumvent the public review process. All agreed on the importance of transparency in designations, with local input and recognition of local, state, national, and tribal interests, including agriculture, recreation, and access to sacred lands."
To that end, the America's Great Outdoors report specifically calls for "a transparent and open approach to new national monument designations tailored to engaging local, state, and national interests. Any recommendations should focus on historic and natural features and cultural sites on federal lands that deserve protection under the 1906 Antiquities Act."
That process, the document goes out, should involve not just local entities by members of Congress.
In the process of making recommendations, the following should be considered:
• public input from local, state, and national interests;
• transparency in development and execution of the designation;
• valid existing rights on federal lands; and
• criteria enumerated in law.
Identify potential areas for congressional designation that have strong local support. New land designations are important for protecting outstanding lands and waters, cultural resources, historic sites, and recreation areas and for creating wildlife corridors and restoring intact landscapes. Such designations may only be accomplished by Congress, and involve input from federal agencies. In considering proposals for new wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and national conservation system lands, USDA and DOI should work with Congress to ensure that there is meaningful local, regional, and national input before any congressional designation.
Beyond national monuments, the report also recommends that the administration "(W)ork with Congress to consider new congressional designations of or additions to wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national conservation system lands. Priority for federal support should be given to sites where strong local, regional and national support exists."