For more than a century, the Antiquities Act has given presidents the power to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest” as national monuments. It’s fundamental to our nation’s conservation legacy, but it’s under attack.
Since being passed by a Republican-led Congress and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, Republican and Democratic presidents alike have used the Antiquities Act 231 times to protect and commemorate our unique history. Some of our most iconic landscapes, from Arches National Park to the Grand Canyon, were initially protected as national monuments.
In recent years, President Obama moved to recognize our monumental legacy by designating or expanding 34 national monuments. From civil rights landmarks in Alabama to Maine’s vast North Woods, or the home of Cesar Chavez to the wild seamounts and canyons off the New England coast, these monuments highlight our extraordinary natural and cultural heritage.
However, some politicians and their allies want to dismantle our national monuments law. Proposals include eliminating the Antiquities Act altogether, blocking future national monuments, and eliminating or shrinking certain existing national monuments. Representative Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the House committee overseeing our public lands, has led the charge to dismantle our national monuments, calling the Antiquities Act “the most evil act ever invented.”
In Maine, Governor Paul LePage has asked President Trump to eliminate the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, previously private land that was donated specifically to create a publicly-accessible park. In Utah, Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution urging the elimination of Bears Ears National Monument, an area sacred to Native American tribes with thousands of artifacts threatened by looting and vandalism.
Our national monuments not only commemorate our history, they preserve some of our most iconic destinations for generations to come and boost economic activity in surrounding communities. Undermining the Antiquities Act and eliminating national monuments does nothing more than scratch away America’s natural and cultural legacy.
Cover photo: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument | Creative Commons