Antiquities Act Under Attack

Fox News carried this story today on a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would increase hunter access to public lands. I have not read the bill, but what caught my attention was the last paragraph in the story:

Lawmakers also approved an amendment by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to limit the president’s authority to set aside historic and culturally important federal lands under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Critics say presidents have usurped legislative rights in using the act, and Foxx’s amendment would require that state legislatures and governors approve such designations.

If this were to become law, it would effectively end use of the Antiquities Act for conservation of public lands. Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act was the first law to protect natural and cultural resources in the United States. Although the emphasis behind the Act was to protect sites like Chaco Culture and Mesa Verde, which were being vandalized and destroyed by pot hunters and artifact collectors, President Roosevelt first used this new authority to declare Devils Tower a National Monument. He also designated the Grand Canyon National Monument through the Act, so the Act was used early to set aside public lands. Use of the Act was heavily criticized when in 1996 President Clinton declared the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.

The Antiquities Act is the only tool that allows for conservation of federal lands through administrative action, rather than requiring an act of Congress. Should Congress have a problem with a specific use of the Act, they have the legislative authority to change a declaration. The Antiquities Act to this day it remains a valuable tool for conservation and should be protected.

 

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