House Committee Considers Legislation to Undermine the Antiquities Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Earlier this week, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing to consider legislation that would erode the strength of the Antiquities Act of 1906. For more than a century the Antiquities Act, a bedrock conservation law signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, has been used to protect public lands and waters across the United States from the threat of development.

The Congressional Oversight of the Antiquities Act (H.R. 5499) would require Congress to approve the establishment of a national monument through the Antiquities Act. If not approved within six months, the president would then be prohibited from designating such a monument to conserve those lands for 25 years.  

This legislation disregards the fact that Congress already has the authority to establish, modify, or revoke national monuments. Instead it undermines the intent of Congress when they passed the Antiquities Act, to grant the president authority to protect critical natural, historical, and scientific resources on federal public lands. The ability to designate national monuments through the Antiquities Act is more necessary than ever as gridlock in Congress and ideological opposition to the conservation of public lands has made it increasingly difficult to pass legislation to protect these areas from encroaching development.  

Presidents have used the Antiquities Act as a critical tool to conserve large landscapes, secure important fish and wildlife habitat and safeguard traditional hunting and angling opportunities on our public lands and waters. National monuments also have a long history of being designated through the Antiquities Act with bipartisan support. Together, nine Democratic and nine Republican presidents have established 161 national monuments through their authority under the Antiquities Act.  

As early as 1908, the Antiquities Act was used by Theodore Roosevelt to designate more than 800,000 acres of public land as the Grand Canyon National Monument to protect the region from mining claims. The United States Supreme Court upheld that designation in a 1920 decision, establishing the precedent that the conservation of large landscapes was within the authority of the Antiquities Act. 

Public lands and waters conserved through the Antiquities Act have sustained incredible opportunity for hunters and anglers, from bighorn sheep and sharp-tailed grouse in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, to Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument in New Mexico.  

Now President Biden has the opportunity to build on that conservation legacy by using the Antiquities Act to protect fish and wildlife habitat through the expansion of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and the establishment of the Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument, among others. Three national monuments have already been established by President Biden with the support of hunters and anglers, the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in Colorado, the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada and the Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in Arizona.

If the Congressional Oversight of the Antiquities Act were to become law it would make designations like these supported by hunters and anglers languish for years, if not indefinitely, blunting an extremely important conservation tool.


Hunters and Anglers and National Monuments

A 2023 report, NATIONAL MONUMENTS: A hunting and fishing perspective, released by BHA along with two dozen groups and businesses evaluated hunting and fishing opportunity, as well as the economic impact, of four national monuments. The report also outlines eight principles necessary for hunters and anglers to support national monument designations: 

  • Important fish and wildlife habitat must be conserved. 
  • The monument proclamation must clearly stipulate that management authority over fish and wildlife populations will be retained by state fish and wildlife agencies. 
  • Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands must remain under the authority and jurisdiction of these multiple-use focused land management agencies. 
  • The monument proclamation must direct reasonable access for fishing, hunting, and wildlife management, including allowances for terrestrial habitat improvement and water developments. 
  • The input and guidance of hunters and anglers must be included in management plans for national monuments. 
  • The monument proposal must be developed through a public process—one that includes hunters and anglers, as well as appropriate state, Tribal, and local governments. 
  • The monument proposal must gain support from local hunters and anglers. 
  • Hunting and fishing opportunities must be upheld and the historical and cultural significance of our outdoor traditions explicitly acknowledged in the monument proclamation. 

 

About Kaden McArthur

A western hunter and angler at heart, my passion for wild places and wildlife brought me to Washington, DC to work on conservation policy.

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