Parks Group Opposes Efforts to Dismantle Antiquities Act

One of the cornerstones in the creation of National Parks, monuments, and public lands is the 1906 law, the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act of 1906 resulted from concerns about protecting mostly prehistoric Indian ruins and artifacts-collectively termed "antiquities "-on federal lands in the West. (Left: Joshua Tree National Park). The Act authorized permits for legitimate archeological investigations and penalties for persons taking or destroying antiquities without permission. And it authorized presidents to proclaim "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" as national monuments.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 permits the President to designate federal lands containing objects of historic, scientific, or scenic significance, to prevent their damage from activities such as mining, logging, cattle grazing, and development. A president’s official act is the proclamation of a national monument. For example, the Grand Canyon (at right) was proclaimed to protect it from commercial development. Petrified Forest was proclaimed to protect against the looting of mineralized remains of Mesozoic forests.

The Antiquities Act only permits the President to designate national monuments from existing federal lands—already owned by the federal government and already being paid for by the American taxpayer. National parks and monuments are investments in the future of our country. In fact, they support $13.3 billion of local private-sector economic activity and 267,000 private-sector jobs annually.

The Antiquities Act has a proven track record of protecting especially sensitive federal land and the unique natural, historic, and scientific objects that are to be preserved. Since 1906, fifteen Presidents have declared 131 national monuments under the Act; eight Republican Presidents, seven Democratic Presidents. Outstanding national park units such as the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty (left), Joshua Tree, Olympic, Zion and the C&O Canal were all established originally by Presidential monument designation.

The Act does not prevent the Congress from also designating National Parks, Monuments, or public lands; nor does it prevent the Congress from modifying the Presidents proclamation of one of these areas.

President Theodore Roosevelt (at right) used the law first to make a natural geological feature, Devils Tower, Wyoming, the first national monument three months after the act was passed. Among the next three monuments he proclaimed in 1906 was another natural feature, Petrified Forest, Arizona, and two cultural features, El Morro, New Mexico, and Montezuma Castle, Arizona.

In 1908 Roosevelt again used the act to proclaim more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as a national monument-a very big "object of scientific interest." And in 1918 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Katmai National Monument in Alaska, comprising more than a million acres. Katmai was later enlarged to nearly 2.8 million acres by subsequent Antiquities Act proclamations and for many years was the largest national park system unit. Petrified Forest (left), Grand Canyon, and Katmai were among the many national monuments that Congress later converted to national parks.

While there has been objections over the years to the Antiquities Law, these have been sporadic and of short duration. However, with the anti-environment stand of the Congress this term, a hearing has again started to dismantle this act. Today, the U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands reignited a debate to undermine the Antiquities Act, a critical conservation tool that has been used by presidents of both parties for over 100 years to protect national treasures like the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.

Since Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, eight Republican and seven Democratic presidents have designated approximately 130 national monuments. Most recently used by President George W. Bush, the Antiquities Act has protected some of America’s most well-known national parks like the Grand Canyon, Acadia, the Grand Tetons and Death Valley as well as sites of major historical importance like the African Burial Ground National Monument (right) and the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

Today’s hearing is the latest step in the House’s anti-environmental agenda.

“The House of Representatives is attempting to dismantle our country’s most important public lands laws. It has already tried to give away more than 60 million acres of wilderness quality land and road-less forests to corporate polluters, slash funding for environmental programs to historic lows, and eviscerate laws to protect our country’s wildlife and keep our water and air clean. Now we are witnessing an attempt undo a century old conservation legacy that has protected places ranging from the Grand Canyon to the Statue of Liberty,” stated Brian O’Donnell, Executive Director of the Conservation Lands Foundation.

The National Parks Conservation Agency issued this park release today stating their opposition to the dismantling of the act:

“The National Parks Conservation Association opposes bills being heard today before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands which would dismantle the Antiquities Act and ensure that no President in the future has the power to move rapidly to protect public lands from clear threats. Without the Antiquities Act, America might not have protected the Grand Canyon, Olympic, Acadia, the Statue of Liberty, Glacier Bay (left),Arches, Joshua Tree, and many other of our most cherished, iconic and visited national parks.”

“The Antiquities Act has a proud legacy of being a non-partisan conservation tool; eight Republican Presidents have designated monuments along with seven Democratic Presidents. Given the historic bi-partisan support and use of this law, maintaining the Antiquities Act should not be an issue that divides Republicans and Democrats.”

“In 1906, Congress wisely gave the President power to act quickly to protect existing federal lands to prevent their damage from activities such as mining, logging, and development, knowing that
Congress could always repeal any monument designation if they chose to.” (At right: Devils Tower).

“These bills would diminish the President’s authority to proclaim national monuments, and instead limit the power to make monument ‘recommendations’ by requiring congressional approval. Other bills would limit which federal lands would be eligible by exempting the Act from applying to certain states. These provisions defeat the purpose for which the Antiquities Act was created, and would open the
door to the claims of developers, mining and energy companies, and others, leading to the degradation of unique federal lands.”

“America is losing at least one million acres a year to development--roughly equivalent to the size of Delaware. Thankfully, the Antiquities Act gives us a way to respond rapidly to development threats in sensitive areas and to more long-term conservation threats like vanishing wildlife corridors, and to protect special places for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.” (Left: Cherokee National Forest)

For additional information on the Antiquities Act, visit:

NPCA,"Parks Group Opposes Efforts to Dismantle Antiquities Act", accessed September 15, 2011
Conservation Lands Foundation, "Politicians take aim at nation's Conservation Legacy", accessed September 15, 2011


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