On Wednesday, October 11, the House Natural Resources Committee is going to take a vote on a piece of legislation that Chairman Rob Bishop and his anti-parks caucus have been building towards for years. This bill, H.R. 3990, would gut the Antiquities Act, one of the key tools for public lands protection that has been used by 16 Presidents, democrat and republican, since it became law in 1906. The Trump administration, Bishop, and the entire Republican party have had the Antiquities Act in their crosshairs for decades. With Secretary of the Interior Zinke’s sham monuments review we saw them going after existing monuments; this bill goes after future monuments by making it next to impossible for any president to designate a monument ever again.
So what does this bill say? There are four main takeaways:
- It changes the definition of what qualifies as deserving of protection. Artifacts and buildings are in, items of scientific importance and natural objects are definitely out.
- It places restrictions on the size of monuments. Anything over 85,000 acres definitely can’t be a monument. National monuments between 10,000 and 85,000 acres require approval from state legislatures and governors, which has been known to take decades.
- It includes language that explicitly permits the president to rescind a national monument, totally undercutting the Administration and Bishop’s arguments that the Antiquities Act as currently written already allows the president to get rid of a monument.
- It completely prohibits the creation of marine monuments under the Antiquities Act.
Now, I really like being outside on public lands. I’ve hiked in the slot canyons of Vermilion Cliffs; my last cross-country road trip took me through Petrified Forest National Monument; I’ve sledded the dunes at White Sands; and my best family vacation at age 10 was two weeks spent in the Southwest visiting awe-inspiring landscapes like Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon. Every single one of those places owes its continued protection to the Antiquities Act. And yet, if H.R. 3990 was the law at the time, not a single one of those magical, iconic places would “qualify” as worthy of protection.
Think of that…the Grand Canyon, not good enough to be protected as a national monument? But under Congressman Bishop’s definition it’s both too big and doesn’t fit his idea of an antiquity (being that it’s just a geologic formation). Same goes for Devil’s Tower which was designated by Sec. Zinke’s hero, President Roosevelt. And of course all the monuments included in Zinke’s review wouldn’t qualify, including his home state’s Upper Missouri River Breaks. Gold Butte - too big. Giant Sequoia - trees don’t count, nothing man made there. Same with Katahdin Woods and Waters.
Worst of all, Bishop’s bill is being rushed through the process -- no hearing, no opportunity for the public to comment. But some members of Congress still want to hear from you. They want to hear about the national monuments that are important to you and why it is important to protect this bedrock public land law. If you have a moment, call or email and tell them why you care about national monuments. Make sure that they know you will keep fighting to protect these iconic places, both the ones we already have and the ones still to come.