The Wilderness Society strongly opposes H.R. 1459, a bill that would undermine the ability of presidents to use the Antiquities Act to protect public lands that have significant historic, cultural or conservation value. This bill is scheduled for a vote in the House later this week.
President Theodore Roosevelt pushed for passage of the Antiquities Act, which has since been used by 16 presidents -- eight Republicans and eight Democrats – to protect many of America’s most treasured places from Alaska to the Florida Keys including the Grand Canyon, Acadia, Muir Woods, and Olympic national parks. H.R. 1459 would insert redundant and unnecessary administrative hurdles for protecting public lands including an arbitrary limit on the number of designations a President can make during a term in office.
“Americans value our treasured national parks and wild landscapes, and this proposal is nothing more than an attempt to weaken the ability to protect publicly owned lands for the benefit of future generations,” said Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director at The Wilderness Society. “This bill says, in effect, America doesn’t need any more national parks and conservation lands.”
The Antiquities Act allows presidents to protect lands and waters already owned by the American people. It does not apply to private lands. The Antiquities Act properly balances legislative and executive powers. While granting to the President the authority to take swift action to protect significant historic and natural areas, it leaves intact Congress’ authority to declare monuments and expand or re-designate national monuments as national parks or even remove the protection entirely. For several years, Congress has rarely considered bills to establish or expand national parks and other wild places. In fact, even bipartisan land conservation bills have seen record-setting delays due to the current stalemate on conservation in Congress.
“Historically, use of the Antiquities Act has been bipartisan,” said Matt Keller, national monuments campaign director at The Wilderness Society. “For instance, President George W. Bush used the Antiquities Act to establish the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006. This is the largest conservation area under the U.S. flag, encompassing nearly 140,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, which is larger than all the country's national parks combined.”
In recent years, sites honoring America’s military and outdoor heritage as well as African American and Hispanic leaders have been designated under the Antiquities Act in response to broad community input. For example, Fort Monroe in Virginia was established as a national monument in 2011. This site marks both the beginning of slavery and the end of slavery in our country, having become a refuge for African Americans during the Civil War. Other monument designations that celebrate our country’s military heritage and cultural diversity include the World War II Valor in the Pacific, Fort Monroe, Fort Ord, and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad and the César E. Chávez National Monuments.
Protected public lands provide a significant boost to local economies. For every dollar invested in our national parks, communities enjoy a 10-fold return, according to the National Park Service. In addition, outdoor recreation fuels $646 billion into the U.S. economy and supports more than 6 million jobs. H.R. 1459 wastes taxpayer dollars and leaves local communities in limbo.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that H.R. 1459 would cost an additional $2 million over the next four years. There is overwhelming opposition to this bill from veterans, Hispanic, and African American groups, businesses, sportsmen, preservation and conservation groups.
“H.R. 1459 and similar efforts to undermine protection of public lands are out of step with public opinion,” says Rowsome. “Overwhelmingly, Americans favor management of our public lands and waters in ways that enhance quality of life, boost local economies and preserve these landscapes for the enjoyment of future generations.”