Antiquities Act Attack Latest Affront to Sportsmen

Whether you are an avid angler, only go fishing occasionally, or have fished just a time or two, you likely remember the first fish you caught. I can’t remember the first time I watched the television show Knight Rider or the first time I played the Nintendo game Super Mario Brothers, but I remember vividly the first fish I caught. I also remember fondly the first time I caught different species of fish.

Wedding Canyon, in Colorado National Monument. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Carolyn Malone.
Wedding Canyon, in Colorado National Monument. This monument was created by President Taft in 1911 and expanded on by presidents Hoover and Eisenhower, all Republicans. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Carolyn Malone.
My first brown trout was caught while traveling between duty assignments in the military. I had to move across the country from West Coast to the East Coast and decided to take the scenic route through northern California to do some hiking and fishing. I hiked through Lassen Volcanic National Park and spent some time fishing a small stream that was full of little rainbow trout. I caught one after the other. The scenery was gorgeous, but there really wasn’t anything all that memorable about catching a bunch of small trout … until a huge brown trout grabbed my fly. The 22-inch brown was an epic fish that peeled off line in to my backing and did some amazing acrobatic jumps that will forever be etched in my mind. Not too long after that  I was shipped off to Iraq. I found no matter how stressful things got, if I remembered back to that brown trout and looked forward to catching others like it, I knew I could get through anything.

Americans value public lands, but it seems like Congress doesn’t

Many of my fondest memories occurred on public lands. Whether it was camping with the family, hiking with a girlfriend, hunting with friends, or fishing Lassen Volcanic National Park by myself, these experiences were some of my best memories. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. A new bipartisan survey of Western voters finds broad support for protecting public lands and maintaining them under federal control. The results show an overwhelming 85-percent agree that when government closes national parks and other public lands, local economies in the West suffer. The survey also found that 83 percent believe funding to national parks, forests and other public lands should not be cut.

Last year the 242,455-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument was designated through Antiquities Act, protecting some of the best trout fishing in New Mexico. Nearly half of our national parks were originally protected under the Antiquities Act, and many of those federal lands provide excellent fishing and hunting opportunities.  Photo by Garrett VeneKlasen of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
Interestingly, after two decades of decline, hunting and fishing are experiencing a resurgence in the U.S. According to a report released late last year, from 2006-2011, hunting participation increased by 9 percent, while angling participation grew by 11 percent. Another report outlines the reasons for this recent trend, noting that availability of public lands is the fourth biggest reason for the increase in resident hunting, and the second biggest reason for nonresident hunting. That same report also lists access as one of the top reasons for both resident and nonresident angling. Clearly, Americans place a high value on public lands, and much of that value is generated from the recreation experienced on those lands.

Why then do some members of Congress keep trying to undermine our public lands heritage? Congress has before it more than three dozen land-protection bills with broad public support, yet only one has passed. The last Congress was the first in 40 years not to pass any legislation protecting land as new parks or wilderness. Earlier this year, Sleeping Bear Dunes became the first new wilderness in five years, which represents the longest drought of new wilderness areas since World War II.

To make matters worse, the Republican National Committee last month passed a resolution that the federal government should give public lands over to the states, which would in many cases mean more industrial use of those lands and less opportunity for hunting and fishing. Even worse, the House voted March 26 on H.R. 1459 — the ridiculously titled Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act — in attempt to neuter the Antiquities Act. The bill passed in the House with a vote of 222-201. It has no chance in the Senate and would most certainly be vetoed by the president, but yet the House dedicated taxpayer time and money on something the vast majority of Americans don’t want.  HR 1459 was just the latest of 10 bills introduced by Congress over the years attempting to undermine the Antiquities Act. Is it any wonder that Congress’ approval rating recently fell to an all-time low of 9%?

Antiquities Act utilized by presidents of both parties

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico, left) and Taos Fly Shop owner Nick Streit show a trout caught in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo by Garrett VeneKlasen
A little background on the American Antiquities Act of 1906: The Act, which was approved by Congress and signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt, gives the president the authority to designate federal land as national monuments and to accept private lands for this purpose. For more than 100 years, 16 presidents of both parties have used the Antiquities Act to create more than 130 national monuments, adding protections and access to our most important public lands. Nearly half of our national parks were originally protected under the Antiquities Act, and many of those federal lands provide excellent fishing and hunting opportunities. For example, the aforementioned Lassen Volcanic National Park was originally a nationally monument designated by Teddy Roosevelt.

President Obama has used the Antiquities Act several times during his presidency, just as past Republican presidents have done, including Coolidge, Hoover, and Bush Sr. Not all of these national monuments provide opportunity and access for hunters and anglers, but many do. A recent example of the use of the Antiquities Act to protect epic fishing opportunity comes from New Mexico. Last year Obama designated the 242,455-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument through the Antiquities Act.

I’ve heard about the great fishing in this area, but haven’t fished it myself, so I put a call into NWF’s affiliate, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, to learn more about it.

“The monument includes the Rio Grande gorge, including the confluence with the Red River, which is some of the best trout fishing in New Mexico,” said Joel Gay, NMWF’s communications director. “The public access is great. It’s really a playground for New Mexico. The uplands around there have elk, deer, antelope, bear, and there is good hunting for all of these within the monument area. The (national monument designation) protects this valuable New Mexico resources and ensures we can hunt and fish there in this same condition forever.”

If you are a sportsman or woman and you’re not angry about these blatant attacks on our public lands, you should be. Opposing HR 1459 and other attacks against our public lands is not about which side of the political aisle you find yourself, it’s about protecting our nation’s special places, and providing access and opportunity for all Americans to enjoy them.