Conservation champs defended Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy despite bad bill passage

The House’s narrow passage of an anti-public lands bill on March 26 was disappointing, but amid that fight, many champions of conservation displayed true leadership by defending Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy.

Were it to become law, H.R. 1459 would add bureaucratic hurdles and arbitrary limits to the process of designating national monuments. While the passage of the bill was out of step with public sentiment and America’s conservation legacy, the thin margin of the final vote demonstrated strong bipartisan support for public lands.

Here are a few members of Congress who proved their commitment to conservation, and deserve a shout-out from anyone who cares about public lands:

Rep. Peter DeFazio (Oregon)

Rep. Peter DeFazio was among those House members who headed up efforts to get colleagues to sign a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell encouraging the president to protect national monuments several months ago. He followed that up with an impassioned floor speech opposing efforts to damage the Antiquities Act (below). In addition to defending this bedrock conservation law, Rep. DeFazio previously introduced legislation to protect 29,650 acres of Wilderness and almost 15 miles of Wild and Scenic River within Oregon’s coastal rainforest.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (Arizona)

In addition to defending the Antiquities Act during the debate over H.R. 1459, Rep. Raul Grijalva rallied House members to sign a letter defending the authority of the president to designate national monuments in January. In the past, he has led efforts to preserve the Sonoran Desert and sponsored legislation to establish the National Landscape Conservation System. Rep. Grijalva was among three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus honored by The Wilderness Society for their commitment to environmental conservation in 2011, and he was named one of America’s Great Outdoors Congressional Champions in 2013.

Rep. Donna Edwards (Maryland)

Rep. Donna Edwards coauthored a letter to fellow House members on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus in opposition to H.R. 1459, also speaking out against the bill on the chamber floor. Her ongoing commitment to preserving irreplaceable cultural and natural landmarks has included co-sponsorship of legislation to protect Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument (later accomplished by President Barack Obama using the Antiquities Act). Rep. Edwards attended the ceremony marking the official establishment of that monument.

Rep. Bobby Scott (Virginia)

Rep. Bobby Scott co-authored the Congressional Black Caucus letter opposing the “Preventing New Parks” bill with Rep. Donna Edwards. In his floor speech defending the Antiquities Act, Rep. Scott touted the importance of the 1906 law in designating Virginia’s Fort Monroe National Monument. Though Rep. Scott and others had worked for years to get the landmark the protection it deserved through legislation, it ultimately languished in committee and never got a proper hearing. “Without the President's statutory authority to protect this land, it is doubtful that Fort Monroe and the history of the site would be protected as it is today,” said Scott.

Rep. Jared Huffman (California)

Rep. Jared Huffman sponsored legislation to add Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to the California Coastal National Monument, and saw his work come to fruition when President Obama made the designation a reality in March. Additionally, Rep. Huffman has co-sponsored legislation to protect the Berryessa-Snow Mountain region as a National Conservation Area. In his House floor speech defending the Antiquities Act, Rep. Huffman cited the economic importance of national monuments and other public protected areas to local communities, echoing a January op-ed he co-authored with Rep. Chris Gibson (D-NY).

Rep. Charlie Rangel (New York)

Rep. Charles Rangel was the driving force behind securing the funds needed to preserve the African Burial Ground National Monument in Lower Manhattan, to honor the final resting place of countless slaves. Like Reps. Donna Edwards and Bobby Scott, Rep. Rangel helped pen the Congressional Black Caucus’ “Dear Colleague” letter to fellow members of Congress opposing H.R. 1459.


Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (New Mexico)

A tireless champion of conservation in New Mexico, Ben Ray Lujan has advocated for legislation to protect both the Rio Grande Del Norte and Columbine Hondo areas in his home state. The former was named a national monument by President Obama using the Antiquities Act in 2013. Recalling this, Rep. Lujan hailed the law “that has resulted in the protection and preservation of some of our nation’s most cherished lands” in his floor speech opposing H.R. 1459.


Rep. Rick Larsen (Washington)

Rep. Rick Larsen introduced legislation to protect Washington’s San Juan Islands and also encouraged President Obama to make them a national monument under the Antiquities Act. The president obliged in 2013, protecting that area along with four others. Rep. Larsen has also fought for the protection of Wild Sky Wilderness and advocated for the preservation of the iconic Green Mountain Lookout.


Rep. Donald Payne (New Jersey)

In addition to standing up for the authority of presidents to protect public lands as national monuments during the debate over H.R. 1459, Rep. Donald Payne previously introduced legislation to re-dedicate Edison National Historic Site as Thomas Edison National Historical Park, comprising the famous inventor’s home and laboratory in New Jersey.



Rep. John Carney (Delaware)

Rep. John Carney was perhaps the biggest proponent of the First State National Monument, whose designation in Delaware gave the National Park Service a presence in all 50 states for the first time. It should come as no surprise that he vocally opposed efforts to weaken the Antiquities Act.

All photos from House of Representatives via Wikimedia Commons.