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A quiet but effective conservation tool – the Antiquities Act

By Michael Butler, CEO

This past week some of our closest family friends embarked upon a Griswoldesque vacation by driving through the magnificent landscapes of southern Utah, northern Arizona, and into California on their way to San Francisco. On this trip, they are taking the time to see many of America’s grandest national parks and monuments.

And in case you missed it, another significant thing occurred – President Obama announced the creation of three new national monuments. The White House provided these specifics on the new monuments.

  • Berryessa Snow Mountain in California – a landscape containing rare biodiversity and an abundance of recreational opportunities;
  • Waco Mammoth in Texas (pictured above) – a significant paleontological site featuring well-preserved remains of 24 Columbian mammoths;
  • Basin and Range in Nevada – an iconic American landscape that includes rock art dating back 4,000 years and serves as an irreplaceable resource for archaeologists, historians, and ecologists.

But what is interesting about these designations is that they were done via the little understood but vitally important Antiquities Act.

Initially signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Act has since been used by 16 presidents (eight Republicans and eight Democrats) to create more than 130 national monuments.

Nearly half of our national parks — including the magnificent Grand Canyon and Death Valley — were initially protected as national monuments. Recent monuments including Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers (OH), Fort Monroe (VA), Harriet Tubman (MD), Fort Ord (CA), and Chimney Rock (CO) have been established following thorough public involvement and with bipartisan support locally and in Congress.

Interestingly, the Antiquities Act can only be used on federally owned lands. Monument designations can allow for broad access to a variety of uses and honor existing rights, including oil and gas leases, public access, grazing, and rights-of-way. And following a monument designation, site-specific management plans are put into place with input from local jurisdictions and agencies, community groups, and the public.

Studies have repeatedly shown that national monuments support local economic growth due to the competitive advantage they offer in attracting new businesses and in boosting fast-growing economic sectors like tourism and recreation. For example, following the 2012 designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, visitation increased by 40 percent and local tax revenue in the Town of Taos increased 21 percent.

So if you are traveling this summer across our great nation, seeing the grand natural sites that we have been blessed with, remember the venerable Antiquities Act and take a moment to remember that what we have in our great nation is not by accident. Remember our forebears that had the vision to conserve these lands that are now the focus of our vacations. And let us stand together in support of the Antiquities Act that has been used to protect some our most treasured historic, cultural, and natural wonders and makes our voices heard if Congress should ever move to weaken this vital tool.

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