Issue in Focus
Aug 07 2015
Mere months before he was re-elected in 1996, President Bill Clinton surprised the entire state of Utah by designating 1.9 million acres of federal land in Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Not only did Clinton fail to consult Utah stakeholders about this designation, he didn’t even bother coming to the state to make the designation. Instead he signed the proclamation in Arizona in sight of the Grand Canyon.
Clinton’s use of the Antiquities Act to designate that monument, and many others, was a huge hit with his wealthy environmentalist donors in California and New York. But in Utah, the designation only created frustration and mistrust towards the federal government - feelings that continue to this day.
The Antiquities Act was never meant to be used in this way. Passed in 1906 after widespread looting of archeological sites on federal lands in the Southwest, the four paragraph bill gave President Theodore Roosevelt the power to declare “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic interest on federal land.”
Establishing its originally intended narrow scope, the act also directs the president to limit each designation to the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Unfortunately, presidents from both sides of the aisle have since ignored this limitation by designating 140 monuments covering more than 285 million acres of land.
That is why we need to reform how presidents designate national monuments with the Antiquities Modernization Act. This bill would both preserve the original Antiquities Act intent by continuing the president’s power to designate monument sites that need protection, while also giving local communities a say in the process.
Under the Antiquities Moderation Act, presidents could still designate parcels of federal land as monuments, but any such designation would only be temporary. To make any Antiquities Act designation permanent, a president would then need to win approval for the new monument from both the state where the land resides and from Congress.