A manta ray in Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, which was established by President George W. Bush and expanded by President Obama using the Antiquities Act.
Credit: Kevin Lino (NOAA), flickr.
The current Congress' first attack on the Antiquities Act came in the form of a House subcommittee hearing on the creation of marine monuments, where anti-public lands lawmakers argued to greatly curb presidents' ability to protect parks for future generations.
Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the committee, has already suggested that existing marine monuments be stripped of their protected status. The hearing was the next wave of a concerted attack on #OurWild—parks, monuments and other places all Americans share.
If they are successful, these legislators will remove a vital tool for protecting habitat for unique and endangered species like sea turtles, centuries-old corals, and one of the world's rarest whales—the North Atlantic Right Whale—as well as setting an alarming precedent for the conservation of wild and cultural landmarks more generally.
A young white tern. Marine monuments provide habitat for migratory seabirds as well as numerous aquatic species. Credit: Dan Clark (USFWS, flickr).
"Protecting our shared historic, cultural and natural treasures both on land and in our oceans, our national monuments must be safeguarded for future generations," said Dan Hartinger, deputy campaign director for The Wilderness Society's Parks and Public Lands Defense program. "We will stand in opposition to any attempts to block new parks and monuments or roll back protections for existing monuments."
The Antiquities Act was passed more than a century ago and has been used by almost every president (eight Republicans and eight Democrats) to confer permanent special status on places ranging from the Grand Canyon to Stonewall Inn to New Mexico's Gila Cliff Dwellings. Polling has consistently shown that Americans support this practice and oppose measures to abridge it.
But especially in the last decade—including the Obama administration, which saw more acres of land and water protected than any other presidency—anti-conservation politicians have tried every trick in the book to undermine the law or make it prohibitively hard to use.
This news from Congress is a sign that we cannot rest. We must fight back against attempts to tear down our bedrock conservation laws.
Ocean monuments protect countless natural treasures
Lest we forget, many of our nation's most exceptional natural wonders are found off-coast and under the waves. Presidents have recognized this fact, and designated a number of marine monuments using the Antiquities Act.
In Sept. 2016, President Obama designated Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, encompassing a series of underwater canyons and seamounts in the Atlantic. Previously, he expanded Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and Pacific Remote Islands National Monument (originally designated by President George W. Bush), both off the coast of Hawaii. These actions helped to safeguard fragile coral beds, rare fish, sea turtles, sharks, whales, dolphins and countless seabirds.
A colony of coral and Hawaiian domino damselfish in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Credit: Lindsey Kramer (USFWS), flickr.
Increasingly, the intense push to fish, drill and mine in our oceans is putting delicate marine ecosystems at risk, and, along with climate change, is making large-scale monument designations ever more important. It has been estimated that marine life populations have declined by nearly 50 percent in the last 40 years, and experts say the worst may be yet to come; we might even be on the verge of a "major extinction event" in ocean ecosystems worldwide. Climate change is set to hit oceans hard, and protecting marine monuments should help boost resilience against various stressors.
Conservation foes renew fight against parks and monuments; Bears Ears threatened?
To some ideologues, the fight against national monuments is a proxy for anti-federal government animus. But whatever the reasoning, the anti-monument fringe seemingly has a spring in its step ever since President Trump came to town, including redoubling efforts to roll back existing monuments.
It has been widely reported that Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and others are asking President Trump to revoke or shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Threatened by vandalism and understaffed for years, Bears Ears was a textbook case for monument designation under the Antiquities Act. Any steps to diminish it will double as de facto attacks on the law itself.