WASHINGTON – Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), alongside Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Mitt Romney (R-UT), introduced legislation to reform the Antiquities Act of 1906 to ensure more transparent and accountable designations of national monuments. Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, M.D. (R-IA 1stDistrict) and John Curtis (R-UT 3rd District) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Since its inception, the Antiquities Act has been a tool to protect archaeological resources on public lands. Over the years, however, there have been instances where the Act's broad language has been used to unilaterally designate vast amounts of public land as national monuments without sufficient public input or Congressional oversight.
"The text of the Antiquities Act was clear – to protect significant archaeological and historic sites, but to do so with discretion and to ensure that the designated area was confined to the smallest size necessary for their protection," Sen. Lee said. "Regrettably, we have seen designations that far exceed this directive, impacting millions of acres and the lives of many in the West. My bill aspires to bring clarity and balance to this process, honoring both our historic legacy and the voices of affected communities."
“We must preserve the use of federal lands for responsible recreational, agricultural and energy use,” said Rep. Miller-Meeks, M.D. “For years the Obama and Biden administrations used the Antiquities Act to institutionalize massive executive overreach, seizing acres and acres of land without consequence. In some congressional districts, almost 80% of rural land is set aside as public or federal land. The Congressional Oversight of the Antiquities Act would curb executive overreach and require the administration to consult Congress before making rash decisions about our federal lands.”
“It is abundantly clear Congress must prevent more abuses by the Antiquities Act that go against the will of impacted communities,” said Rep. John Curtis. “There is no question we can protect our public lands, but that should only be done with broad buy-in and collaboration. This legislation will ensure proper accountability and sustainability of our shared lands.”
The bill highlights instances like the designation of the Grand-Staircase-Escalante National Monument under President Clinton and the Bears Ears National Monument under President Obama. Both monuments cover millions of acres. Most recently, President Biden's establishment of a 917,600-acre monument in northern Arizona further underscores the necessity for reform.
Beyond the conservation implications, the broad designations have had real-world economic consequences for local communities. Ranching, farming, mining, and timber harvesting – all vital economic drivers for western communities – are often disrupted or halted entirely due to land-use restrictions.
Sen. Lee’s bill has received endorsements by the American Farm Bureau Foundation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Public Lands Council, American Forest Resource Council, and Federal Forest Resource Coalition.