It’s probably not high on the list of priorities, but we’d like to see Congress revise the Antiquities Act to give legislative oversight to the creation of national monuments.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 has been used by presidents starting with Teddy Roosevelt to create national monuments.
The authority comes with few restrictions. The president, “in his discretion,” can designate almost any piece of federally owned land a national monument for “the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest.”
Although the act makes mention of protecting historic and prehistoric structures, there is no statutory definition or limit on what may be found to be of historic or scientific interest. Presidents have used the act to preserve wild areas.
It’s easier than establishing a wilderness area, or a national park — both of which require congressional approval — but can impose similar restrictions on how the land can be used.
Local residents and their elected representatives have no say in the process. At least, they don’t in 48 states.
The creation of the Jackson Hole National Monument by FDR in the 1940s so rankled Wyoming pols that when legislation was proposed to merge most of it with Grand Teton National Park the Congress amended the Antiquities Act to prohibit the president from establishing monuments in that state without its approval.
After President Jimmy Carter created 56 million acres of monuments in Alaska, Congress amended the act to require it also approve Alaskan monuments of 5,000 acres or more.
We would not argue that the Antiquities Act has not preserved legitimate cultural treasures. We might not have the Grand Canyon in its current state had TR not protected it by making it first a national monument.
But that was a different time. The restrictions that can be placed on ranchers and timbermen throughout the West by these declarations require oversight.
They should have at least the same consideration afforded the people of Wyoming and Alaska.