Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.
Credit: flickr, Cheuk-man Kong.
The letter, which was released on Jan. 24 by House Natural Resources Committee members Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and co-signed by 109 House Democrats, invoked the century-old legacy of the law that first granted presidents the power to designate such sites for protection.
Despite its popularity, the Antiquities Act has come under fire in recent years, as those leery of White House involvement tried to make all monument designations subject to Congressional approval. This would leave many special places mired in unprotected limbo. As the letter noted, “In today’s deeply partisan environment, it’s becoming nearly impossible for Congress to make critical conservation decisions.” In the absence of that action, it is time for the president to use the license granted him.
Backed by lawmakers from Massachusetts to California, the letter circulated just days before Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s visit to New Mexico to discuss a potential monument in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region.
The letter continued: “Conservation and historic preservation initiatives with broad public support should not have to be sidelined or stalled because of political paralysis.” Use of the Antiquities Act has become especially important in a fractious political climate that has seen more than 30 federal land protection bills introduced in the current Congress but only one passed by its lower chamber. Like many presidents before him, President Barack Obama has sidestepped that obstacle once already, adding five new national monuments in 2013, including New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte and portions of Washington’s San Juan Islands.