Carol Hardy Vincent Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Kristina Alexander Legislative Attorney
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to proclaim national monuments on federal lands that contain historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, or other objects of historic or scientific interest. The President is to reserve “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” The act was designed to protect federal lands and resources quickly, and Presidents have proclaimed a total of 128 monuments. Congress has modified many of these proclamations and has abolished some monuments. Congress also has created monuments under its own authority.
Presidential establishment of monuments sometimes has been contentious—for example, President Franklin Roosevelt’s creation of the Jackson Hole National Monument in Wyoming (1943); President Carter’s massive Alaskan withdrawals (1978); and President Clinton’s establishment of 19 monuments and enlargement of three others (1996-2001). The Obama Administration’s consideration of areas for possible monument designation has renewed controversy over the Antiquities Act.
Issues have included the size of the areas and types of resources protected; the effects of monument designation on land uses; the level and types of threats to the areas; the inclusion of nonfederal lands within monument boundaries; the act’s limited process compared with the public participation and environmental review aspects of other laws; and the agency managing the monument.
Opponents have sought to revoke or limit the President’s authority to proclaim monuments. The 112th Congress is currently considering proposals to limit the President’s authority to create monuments. Some bills—H.R. 845 (Montana), H.R. 846 (Idaho), H.R. 2147 and S. 1182 (Utah), and S. 144 (Nevada)—would block monuments from being declared by the President in a particular state. One bill—H.R. 302—would require state approval before a monument was proclaimed by the President. Others—H.R. 817, S. 122, and S. 927—would require congressional approval. Two other bills would require congressional approval and also would create extensive procedures for the President and the Secretary of the Interior to follow before a monument could be designated by the President—H.R. 758; S. 407. Monument supporters favor the Antiquities Act in its present form, asserting that the public and the courts have upheld monument designations and that many past designations that initially were controversial have come to be supported. They contend that the President needs continued authority to promptly protect valuable resources on federal lands from potential threats.
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