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DOI review of designations under Antiquities Act underway

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By Chris Heck

What is the Antiquities Act? 

The Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. During his presidency, Roosevelt used the act 18 times. Seven of his original designations have been upgraded to “national park” or “national forest” by Congress, or in the case of Cinder Cone National Monument, merged with Lassen Peak to form the Lassen Volcanic National Park.

A sitting president under the Antiquities Act is authorized, “in [their] discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Since the Antiquities Act was signed into law, presidents of each party have used the act to establish a combined 157 national monuments. As of January 2017, the National Park Service managed 83, the Bureau of Land Management managed 28, the U.S. Forest Service managed 11, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration managed six national monuments. Three presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy) have used the Antiquities Act to reduce the size of a national monument. Congress also maintains its ability to establish national monuments.

Twice Congress has provided additional guidance for national monument designations established under the Antiquities Act. In 1950, legislation signed by President Truman that merged the Jackson Hole National Monument into the Grand Teton National Park also required all future establishments or enlargements of national monuments in Wyoming to require congressional consent. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (PL. 96-487), passed in 1980, required any future establishment of a national monument over 5,000 acres in Alaska to have a notice published in the Federal Register and congressional consent.

Modernizing the Antiquities Act

In January, NACD signed on to a letter sent to then President-elect Trump about the necessity of updating the 111-year-old Antiquities Act. Currently, the act does not provide explicit requirements for the president to consult with local and state authorities on the designation of national monuments. The letter – in expressing its concern about this missing language – encouraged Trump to enact legislation that would require a public process by which landowners and local governments could make their voices heard on future designations.

Local communities should have the opportunity to review and comment on national monument designations prior to any designation being declared. National monument designations can sometimes inadvertently lead to the creation of permanent “museums” where conservation and effective natural resource management is excluded. In these cases, there is a violation of “multiple use” – the first tenet of American public lands management – and an unfortunate neglect of the land and wildlife.

Yesterday, Trump issued an executive order requiring the Interior Department to review the Antiquities Act within 120 days and propose ways the act could be improved by more local and state participation in the designation process. The order also instructs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all the national monument designations made since January 1, 1996 on more than 100,000 acres to determine whether they should be modified.

NACD is monitoring the review process and will keep districts informed as relevant action takes place.  A copy of the letter sent to President-elect Trump can be found here.

Chris Heck, NACD government affairs associate, can be reached by email at chris-heck@nacdnet.org.

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