Zion National Park was first protected as a national monument using the Antiquities Act.
Credit: Loïc Lagarde, flickr.
Since its approval by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used on a bipartisan basis by 16 presidents, serving as an important contingency plan for when Congress is unable to act swiftly to protect public lands.
The Antiquities Act allows presidents to protect unique historic or natural sites as national monuments (many, like the Grand Canyon, later go on to gain national park status). President Barack Obama has used the Antiquities Act 14 times to create new national monuments, including the recent Browns Canyon National Monument, Pullman National Monument and Honouliuli National Monument.
But only a few months into 2015, this bedrock law is under attack in several new bills and amendments that would effectively block new monuments and parks. Given Congress’ inability to accomplish conservation goals in recent years, the Antiquities Act is more important than ever—and it is vital that we ensure it remains strong.
The Antiquities Act remains popular among Americans at-large--a recent poll found that 90 percent of voters support presidential proposals to “permanently protect some public lands [like] monuments, wildlife refuge areas, wilderness” and 69 percent oppose efforts to “stop creation of new national parks, wilderness areas, and monuments.” If these bills to block public lands protection pass, we will be back where we started: with public lands conservation measures languishing in Congress, and natural and historical landmarks cherished by the American people unable to get the protection they deserve.
Take a look at some of the amazing places that have been protected using the Antiquities Act and ask your member of Congress to defend it and stand up for conservation.
Browns Canyon National Monument (Colorado)
Photo: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.
Protected by President Barack Obama in 2015, Browns Canyon National Monument encompasses a unique landscape along the east bank of the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Salida. Browns Canyon is the most popular whitewater rafting destination in the country, and also provides a slew of other year-round recreation opportunities. The stretch of the Arkansas River that includes Browns Canyon was awarded “Gold Medal” status for having the highest quality cold-water fish habitats accessible to the public. It’s also a great place for hiking, backpacking, hunting, fishing, snowshoeing, birding, climbing and horseback riding.
Zion National Park (Utah)
Photo: Ben Jackson, flickr.
Originally protected as a national monument by President William Taft in 1909 and later expanded by Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Zion National Park is one of the places on our Great American Backyard Bucket List, and for good reason. It is a geological masterpiece with high plateaus, towering cliffs and a labyrinth of sandstone canyons. Massive rock is shaped by the rare desert waters of the Virgin River, which carves a green ribbon of diverse plants and animals through the canyon oasis. Zion National Park also contains hundreds of wildlife species including American icons like mule deer, bald eagles and peregrine falcons.
Death Valley National Park (California/Nevada)
Photo: Bill Shupp, flickr.
Despite somehow finding its way on to a “worst national parks” list, Death Valley National Park is a true gem, with sand dunes and unique rock formations highlighting stunning vistas amid a lively and utterly unique landscape. Originally protected by President Herbert Hoover in 1933, Death Valley National Park is also an International Dark Sky Park, perfect for gazing at faraway galaxies. The majority of Death Valley National Park, the largest national park in the lower 48 states, is protected as the Death Valley Wilderness, home to more than 1,000 plant species, desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and more.
Olympic National Park (Washington)
Photo: wild trees, flickr.
Olympic National Park was first protected as Mount Olympus National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in order to preserve its herds of elk. Now, the park is mostly designated as wilderness, including 48 miles of beautiful Pacific coastline, temperate rainforests filled with old-growth trees and majestic mountains. The highest peak, Mount Olympus, features the third largest glacier system in the continental U.S., and forests here are considered some of the quietest spots you can find. Olympic National Park remains one of the most popular recreation destinations in the country for hiking, skiing, camping, fishing, bird watching and more.
Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)
Photo: NPS, flickr.
Sand deposits of the Rio Grande have sculpted the tallest dunes in North America in Great Sand Dunes National Park, some reaching 750 feet in height. These, as well as surrounding grasslands, wetlands, alpine lakes, high mountains and ancient forests make this park one of the most picturesque and biologically diverse in the U.S. Great Sand Dunes National Park was first protected as a monument in 1932 by President Herbert Hoover, and it is still a hiking, camping and horseback riding destination. Seasonal Medano Creek offers beach activities like wading and tubing in the spring.
Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)
Photo: David Kingham, flickr.
Perhaps best known for its significant supporting role in the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Devils Tower, a striking igneous rock formation rising out of sweeping prairie in the northeastern corner of Wyoming, was the first place protected under the Antiquities Act, by President Theodore Roosevelt in September 1906. Devils Tower National Monument is a sacred site to several Native American tribes, a geological wonder and home to white-tailed deer, prairie dogs and a variety of raptors and other birds.
Denali National Park & Preserve (Alaska)
Photo: Don Becker (USGS), flickr.
Denali National Park & Preserve’s signature attraction is Mount Denali (or Mount McKinley), North America’s tallest peak (20,237 feet above sea level). The mountain enjoyed such prominence in Native Alaskan cultures that linguists have identified at least eight different names for it, and it is counted by some as the world’s third-tallest mountain. Fittingly, President Jimmy Carter cited the need to protect the entirety of Mount Denali in his 1978 monument declaration, which created what was then the largest national monument in history. About one-third of the modern park is designated wilderness, boasting some of the clearest and cleanest skies in the U.S. and wildlife ranging from Dall sheep to caribou to grizzly bears.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (Oregon)
Protected in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, Cascade-Siskiyou was “the first monument set aside solely for the preservation of biodiversity” but it also boasts great outdoor recreation opportunities, including a portion of the famous Pacific Crest Trail. A large section of the monument’s southern end is protected as the picturesque Soda Mountain Wilderness, which contains habitat for elk, cougars, black bears and more.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument (New Mexico)
Photo: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.
President Barack Obama protected Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument in 2014 to safeguard an incredible wealth of natural and cultural treasures. This piece of Doña Ana County, featuring dramatic mountain peaks, colorful plants, diverse wildlife and priceless archaeological sites, has long been prized for its rugged landscape and pockets of solitude. It includes wildlands perfect for hiking, camping and hunting.
Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)
Photo: Jacob W. Frank (NPS), flickr.
Natural Bridges National Monument gets its name from three stone arches dubbed "Kachina," "Owachomo" and "Sipapu," but that’s not all this cherished spot has going for it. Natural Bridges is the site of ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings and rock art and home to rabbits, kangaroo rats, reptiles and a variety of birds. It is one of only a few association-certified International Dark Sky Parks, places where light pollution is remote enough to allow a truly clear view of starry night skies. President Theodore Roosevelt made Natural Bridges Utah’s first national monument in 1908.
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Hawaii)
Photo: Sarah Youngren (USFWS), flickr.
President George W. Bush used the Antiquities Act to protect Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006 (originally as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument), stretching across ten islands and atolls and covering about 140,000 square miles (an area larger than the country of Greece). Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument contains habitat for a rainbow variety of tropical fish and coral, sharks, manta rays, Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles and birds among many others. When he left office, President Bush had set aside more square miles of ocean for protection than any political leader in U.S. history.