Reader Participation Day: Should Congress Restrict The President's Ability To Use The Antiquities Act To Create National Monuments?

Petrified Forest National Monument (now a National Park) was one of the first designated under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. NPS photo.

As reported in yesterday's Traveler, a vote may be taken as early as today on a bill that would greatly restrict the power of U. S. Presidents to create new National Monuments via the Antiquities Act of 1906. Does that Act as originally written still serve a useful purpose, or are changes now called for?

Since its passage just over a century ago, the Antiquities Act has been used by sixteen U. S. Presidents—eight Republicans and eight Democrats—to declare into being 135 national monuments. Those areas include the still extant Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge National Monuments as well as sites that Congress later expanded to become Petrified Forest, Great Sand Dunes and Death Valley National Parks.

The bill expected to come to a vote this week is "The Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation (EPIC) of National Monuments Act" (H.R. 1459) and is the latest in a series of efforts by some in Congress to limit the President's authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Supporters, led by Utah Republican Rob Bishop, say, "Since its establishment 108 years ago, the Antiquities Act has at times been misused for political purposes by presidents on both sides of the political spectrum. In most circumstances of abuse, large-scale designation are intended to limit specific uses, activities, and access to vast areas of America’s public lands. This has hindered viable uses of land that benefit local communities and support industries and livelihoods, including education, energy production, farming, ranching, mining, and recreation."

Opponents of the bill, including the National Parks and Conservation Association, note that "For over one hundred years the Antiquities Act has been used as a bi-partisan conservation tool. With the exception of the Organic Act of 1916, no law has had more influence over the development of the modern National Park System and our other public lands than the Antiquities Act.... The Act allows the President to reserve or withdraw federal lands ...to prevent their damage from commercial and other development. A president’s ... proclamation of a national monument immediately protects the special qualities of public lands from potential harm, e.g. commercial development [and] looting..."

Those groups point out that Congress still has considerable authority over newly designated National Monuments, since the Act "does not automatically authorize management plans, programs, and funds for designated monuments. Such authority depends upon congressional action, as does any re-designation of a monument as a national park."

You can read the supporter's summary of the current bill at this link, and the NPCA's Fact Sheet on the legislation here.

So, what do you think? Is the current attempt to restrict the President's ability to use the Antiquities Act good public policy? If the bill passes the House, but fails to secure approval by the Senate and the President, does it set the tone for the next session of Congress in terms of potential future additions to the National Park System?

Comments

No. Once these places are lost, they are lost forever. And given the ongoing pace of development, I don't think we need MORE hindrances to preserving uniquely American spaces. Congress already has the power to abolish national monuments anyway.
We must be ever vigilant--watching these scallywags who want to transfer our public lands to private enterprise under the guise of "helping the local people". Rep. Bishop a prime example. Time to start writing letters and soon!!!
Absolutely NOT!
Wrong thread
Isn't this bill about naming NEW National Monuments? Seems in that case, it's more a matter of transferring PRIVATE property to public, possibly by force, rather than the other way around.

Mark, I can't recall any case where private land was "taken" for a national monument.

Most cases I can recall involved designations on federal land (ie, owned by the Bureau of Land Management) or donations of land, such as in the case of First State National Monument, in which a non-profit trust held the land until it could be transferred to the Park Service.

Kurt. You are correct. Land included in a new national monument established under the Antiquities Act must either already be in federal ownership (which covers the vast majority of designations) or transfered with the consent of the owner. In all cases that I'm aware of, this has been by donation, or as Kurt explains above, acquired from a non-profit group that is holding it in trust until the monument is established.

Private land cannot be forcibly "taken" from private landowners to create a new monument under this Act. Here's the pertinent language from Act.(Emphasis added below is mine.)

The monument can include landmarks, structures or ojbects "that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States...When such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fide unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States."

NO!