You are here

House Of Representatives Asked To Dilute Antiquities Act


Acadia National Park. Grand Canyon National Park. Zion National Park. These parks, and dozens of other units of the National Park System, have been created through presidential decree. 

On Wednesday, though, the House of Representatives will be asked to approve legislation that would greatly dilute that power for future presidents.

Though presidents of both political parties have turned to the Antiquities Act since 1906, when President Theordore Roosevelt used it to set aside Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, some Republicans in the House believe its use denies the public from having a voice in the creation of national monuments.

Not everyone agrees with the need for such legislation, though.

“We don’t need to fix what isn’t broken. Elected officials proposing changes to the Antiquities Act clearly don’t understand the careful balancing act that it maintains within our federal government, between the legislative and executive powers," said Maureen Finnerty, a former superintendent of Everglades National Park and now chair of Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

"The President of the United States must retain the authority to take swift action to protect significant, historic, and scenic objects on federal lands, while Congress should retain its power to declare monuments, redesignate Presidentially-established national monuments, and determine the resources for management and maintenance of national monuments," she added in a release. "Any attempt to change the Antiquities Act really borders on insanity. This bill, if enacted, will inevitably result in nationally significant public lands and irreplaceable American artifacts going unprotected.”  

The measure, crafted by Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, would:

* Classify National Monument declarations under the Antiquities Act as a major federal action, which would require the application of NEPA;

* Allow for a temporary “emergency” designation (5,000 acres or less for a three-year period) by the president if there is an imminent threat to an American antiquity. After three years, the designation would only become permanent if the NEPA process is completed or it is approved by Congress;

* Limit National Monument declarations to no more than one per state during any four-year presidential term in office, unless otherwise approved by Congress;

* Prevent the inclusion of private property in monument declarations without the prior approval and written consent of property owners; and

* Require within one year of a declaration, a feasibility study and an estimated cost to taxpayers associated with managing the monument in perpetuity, including any loss of federal and state revenue.

Joining the NPS retirees in opposing the legislation was a group of nearly 90 organizations that today sent a letter to Congress asking that the measure be rejected.

“Since President Teddy Roosevelt, nearly every President – Republican and Democratic — has designated national monuments, including the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, and Olympic National Park. These are places families vacation, recreate, and reflect on our shared, diverse history,” said Craig Obey, senior vice president for government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Nine of the 14 national park sites that were reopened with state donations during the shutdown due to their economic importance were originally designated as monuments under the Antiquities Act.”

Under a provision of the bill, the president could not have used the Antiquities Act to establish Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, as the bill limits the number of monument designations made in a state during a Presidential term; the BLM-Managed Fort Ord National Monument was designated before the Chavez monument was.

“The Chavez family, the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the farm worker movement are deeply concerned over legislation to limit the President’s ability to create new national monuments,” said Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

“In October of 2012, President Obama proclaimed before 7,000 people the National Chavez Center at La Paz in Keene, California as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. Now the story of my father, Cesar Chavez, and the contributions of thousands of Latinos, immigrants and others who joined La Causa over the decades is being shared with all of America through the National Park Service," he added.

“Any proposal to prohibit or restrict the president’s authority to bestow the honor of a new national park site to commemorate important American figures and movements that strengthened our democracy should be opposed.”

Of course, if the House does pass the measure, its prospects in the Senate are not the best, and President Obama likely would veto the bill. However, the votes could shed light on how the next Congress might react to it, especially if the November elections swing the balance of power in the Senate or House.


Short sighted partisan politics. Whenever there is a President of one party, the party out of power wants to dilute the power of the office, despite the fact that it will hurt their own party when the party in power changes back again.

Only a few days ago we learned that 1665 acres of spectacular California coastline was protected by the President as the Mendocino National Monument. This action was done by executive order during a time when a "do-nothing Congress" with an approval rating in the single digits would have never managed this conservation achievement. Over the years various presidents have protected 108 areas as national monuments. President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, established the first one in 1906--Devil's Tower in Wyoming, and he eventually established 17 more.

Some of our nation's greatest national parks began as national monuments created by the president. These include Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Acadia and Olympic national parks. Members of Congress were not able to get this done, as they often lack the necessary vision and foresight. A case in point is Alaska. President Carter established national monuments there, many of which are now popular national parks. At the time the Alaskan congressional delegation opposed them. Now Alaskans rave about their parks and all of the resulting tourism and positive economic impact.

Ironically, only a few weeks ago I received an email from my Representative Steve Daines of Montana lambasting the authority of a president to establish a national monument. Since President Roosevelt took that first step in 1906 our nation's population has almost quadrupled from 85 million to 317 million! I am thankful that we still have presidents creating national monuments for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. It is sad that my own Montana U.S. Representative opposes this. Today's Republicans would do well to study the legacy of a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, who was one of our nation's greatest conservation presidents.

Here's a link to a cartoon from the Salt Lake Tribune about our fine, upstanding, anti-everything Congressman from the First District.

Val Bagley nailed it this time.

And here is a link to an article about Bishop's role in opposing national monuments and attempts to gut the Antiquities Act. His opponent in November will be Donna McAleer, a West Point graduate and former Army officer. There are a bunch of people working hard to try to pull off the miracle it will require to get Bishop out and McAleer in.

So this bill would still allow the president to designate a national monument but would require a review and congressional approval. And that is a bad thing?
We can all see why we would want to limit and scrutinize anything this president does, but I don't see how this bill could be a bad thing.

Why no more than one per state? Why would the emergency only be an emergency if the threatened area is 5,000 acres or less? Would a parcel that is 5,0001 acres be less valuable or less threatened because it is too big? These seem to be arbitrary provisions disjoined from the issue of protecting what is valuable.

Yes Beachdumb, our forefathers were smart enough to put checks and balances in our system. No reason that should not apply to National Monument designations as well. Unfortunately, their wisdom and the Constitution has been virtually ignored in recent years.

Those checks and balances were certainly a wise idea. What's hard to evaluate today is whether the Founding Fathers envisioned the kind of partisan roadblocks used by both parties to avoid giving bills such as proposed monuments a hearing.

The report on this bill from the House Committee on Natural Resources includes some interesting comments from those who voted in favor of advancing the bill (i.e. the Republican members, listed in the report as the "majority") and from those with "Dissenting Views" (i.e. Democratic members)

Here are some excerpts from the "dissenting views" that pertain to the use and abuse of "checks and balances":

"H.R. 1459 incorrectly assumes that Presidential proclamations are done in secret, without the support of local stakeholders. Earlier this year, President Obama established five new National Monuments, all with broad support from local communities and affiliated public interest groups."

"In the 112th Congress, ten bills were introduced to designate monuments or protect areas as historic sites; only five of those bills were heard by the Committee and only two, both sponsored by Republicans, were put before the full House of Representatives. Three of the new monuments established by President Obama had bills filed in the House last Congress; none of those bills received a hearing."

"The Majority complains about the Antiquities Act and then fails to give new monument proposals a fair hearing. The Majority opposes new monument designations before they happen, but has never sought legislation to overturn a monument after it has been designated. Given this level of dysfunction, it is more important than ever that the authority granted the President in the Antiquities Act more than a century ago remain effective."

Here's the link for the above information:

Balance of power may at time be "used" at it should be and possibly "abused" on occasion. That doesn't mean the concept should be discarded.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments