What is the Antiquities Act?

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

History

The Antiquities Act, enacted in 1906, gives the President the ability to proclaim National Monuments on federal lands that contain “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, or other objects of historic or scientific interest.” Originally created to prevent looting of Indigenous artifacts from archaeological sites, this powerful tool allows the President to bypass the slow-moving legislative process in order to protect large swaths of land that are under critical threat. The White House typically spends time collaborating with local stakeholders to decide what the protected area should look like and how it will function prior to designation giving local communities a strong voice in the process. Additionally, designation can be used to protect public lands from impending oil and gas extraction and commercial development and instead aid in generating “economic growth through tourism, recreation, and improved property values” in the towns surrounding the National Monuments. 

National Park vs National Monument

A National Monument differs from a National Park in a few ways. Several critical differences according to Outside Online are:

Why the land is being protected:

  • “National Parks protect land that offers “scenic, inspirational, educational, and recreation opportunities.” 
  • National Monuments protect land that is “historic, cultural, or scientific nature” 

Management Structure

  • “National Parks are managed by the National Park Service 
  • National Monuments can be managed by a myriad of agencies such as the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or US Fish and Wildlife Service” 

Designation Power

  • “National Parks must be voted on, approved, and designated by Congress
  • National Monuments can be established by the President through a proclamation”

Attack on the Antiquities Act

According to the Center for Western Priorities, “For over 100 years, presidents of both political parties have used the Antiquities Act to protect national monuments. Since 1906, 16 presidents have protected 157 monuments under the law.” However, in the recent political era, many designations have been highly contentious between political parties. During the Obama administration, 29 new National Monuments were established in 17 different states protecting a total of 553 million acres of federal lands and waters. One Monument designated during the Obama era is Bears Ears National Monument. This Monument is considered highly controversial as the Trump administration proclaimed a reckless reduction of the area in 2017. Many organizations such as the Natural Resources Defence Council, Access Fund, Patagonia, Utah Dine Bikeyah, and others have banned together to sue Donald Trump claiming that this reduction is a direct attack on the Antiquities Act. The organizations claim the Antiquities Act gives the president the ability to create National Monuments, but only congress has the authority to revoke or revise the protected area. 

How to take action

It seems the battle for the protection of the Antiquities Act is just beginning. It is more important than ever to tell your representatives that you support the Antiquities Act and hope to see it upheld in perpetuity. Click on the National Parks Conservation Association’s easy-to-use letter writing tool below to support the Antiquities Act. 

Resources:


NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

Amelia Howe
Amelia Howe

Amelia Howe is an environmental advocacy and policy professional based in Salt Lake City. She analyzes complex legislation, creating digestible summaries that inspire thoughtful engagement. Coffee and climbing fill her time when she isn’t nerding out over the latest policy news. 


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