The Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Hidden Treasures of the American West

Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Photo Courtesy National Park Service.

Since Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, presidents — Republicans and Democrats alike — have used the Act more than 100 times to preserve some of our most spectacular and historically important public lands. Although its title suggests a focus on archaeology (ruins, petroglyphs, etc.), the Antiquities Act gives the president the power to protect all forms of American history – natural, scientific, and archaeological – by designating National Monuments. Starting with Teddy Roosevelt, 15 Presidents have used the Act to create diverse National Monuments, ranging from the small (one acre) and historic Fort Matanzas in Florida to the large (10,600,000 acres) and spectacular Yukon Flats National Monument in Alaska.

America’s newest system of public lands, the National Landscape Conservation System, was created in 2000 to protect the best lands and waters managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). All but one of the System’s National Monuments were established under the Antiquities Act, including treasures like Arizona’s Agua Fria, California’s Carrizo Plain, and Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks.

The National Landscape Conservation System reflects a modern view of “landscape” or “ecosystem” conservation. Many of the National Monuments exceed one hundred thousand acres in size; they encompass large and contiguous landscapes of cultural and natural values, instead of preserving only disconnected pieces of land that are cut off from the surroundings that sustain them. Ideally, visitors to a BLM Monument can experience a historic site surrounded by the same lands where the original inhabitants explored, traveled, and lived.

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