National monuments matter to Americans — Preserve the Antiquities Act

New Mexicans worked for years to see the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks named a national monument. Image: Patrick J. Alexander
New Mexicans worked for years to see the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks named a national monument. Image: Patrick J. Alexander
Top-down or grassroots — it’s all a matter of perspective.

Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho has introduced a bill, S. 228, to block presidents from establishing national monuments. In a news release, Crapo criticized “top-down national monument designations” as potentially harmful to the local economy and public access.

But from the perspective of communities in Crapo’s home state, to Montana, Colorado and New Mexico, federal legislation blocking use of the Antiquities Act might look like a “top-down” response to public-lands management.

In fact,  recent monument designations have been the result of years of work and lobbying by diverse community coalitions. In other words, the president was responding to grassroots campaigns, just as other chief executives from both political parties have since 1906.

After Rio Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico was declared a national monument in 2013, Kent Salazar, the Western vice chairman of National Wildlife Federation’s board of directors said: “We’ve been working on this for 15 years. Hunters and anglers support protecting Rio Grande del Norte. Environmentalists, ranchers and businesses support it. Native Americans have been hunting and fishing this area forever.”

National monuments matter to Americans

Approval of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in 2014 was propelled by widespread public support.

“We’ve been working on this for more than a decade. Sportsmen, many of whom own local businesses, have been diligently reaching out to community leaders and elected officials to make permanent protection of these important lands a reality,”  John Cornell of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation said after President Barack Obama proclaimed the nearly half-million-acre area a national monument.

In Idaho and Colorado, many hunters, anglers, wildlife advocates and other outdoor enthusiasts would like to join the celebration. Members of Sportsmen for Boulder-White Clouds support using the Antiquities Act as the “clearest path” to conserving the world-class fishing and hunting country in central Idaho because legislation has failed so far.

“I think sportsmen and conservationists in Idaho are tired of waiting,” Idaho Wildlife Federation Executive Director Michael Gibson told a reporter. “People have been working on protections in the Boulder-White Clouds for 50 years.”

For more than two decades, Coloradans have been hoping to see Browns Canyon made a national monument to maintain the rugged backcountry, hunting, fishing and whitewater rafting that draws people from across the country. Former Sen. Mark Udall, Sen. Michael Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper called on President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to establish a monument after legislation failed to advance in the 113th Congress. More than 500 people signed up to speak during a meeting in December that was attended by federal officials seeking public comments. Former Rep. Joel Hefley, who saw his Browns Canyon bill stall in 2006 due to “Washington-style politics at their worst,” wrote a recent op-ed urging action.

“I’m hoping that we’ve finally pushed this thing through. It certainly deserves that protection after all these years and all the support we’ve generated,” Bill Dvorak, NWF public lands organizer and longtime rafting guide in Browns Canyon, told The Denver Post after the meeting in December.

There is wide public support for making Colorado's Browns Canyon a national monument. Image: Susan Mayfield
There is wide public support for making Colorado’s Browns Canyon a national monument. Image: Susan Mayfield

Conserve our public treasures; Preserve the Antiquities Act

All the public, grassroots support would mean little if a president, who, after study and listening to community requests, would still have to win congressional approval to establish a new national monument. After all, congressional gridlock and ideological objections to conserving public lands are the reasons people to push for action under the Antiquities Act in the first place.

“It is critical that states and affected stakeholders where a monument could be located play a key role in the decision-making process,” Crapo said when he announced his bill to fundamentally change the Antiquities Act.

What really is critical is that Americans have another avenue when Congress ignores affected stakeholders and communities. It is critical to preserve the Antiquities Act, which gave us  Grand Canyon National Park, Muir Woods National Monument, the Statue of Liberty National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument…and many, many more.


Take ActionContact your federal representatives. Tell them you oppose changes to the Antiquities Act. Make sure we continue conserving our special places!