The Antiquities Act: Protecting America's Treasures

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Since its passage by Congress in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been a critically important tool for the preservation of our public lands – lands that belong to all Americans. Serving as a vital “insurance policy” for our nation’s natural treasures, the Antiquities Act gives the president the power to grant national monument status to areas possessing significant historical and/or scientific values. This bipartisan presidential tool has been used to create a diverse array of national monuments, ranging from the small (one acre) and historic Fort Matanzas in Florida to the large (350,000 square mile) marine National Monuments in the Pacific established by President Bush.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 declares:

“The President of the United States is authorized in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be National Monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Theodore Roosevelt, the first president to issue a proclamation designating a national monument, protected more than one million acres by designating 18 monuments in nine states. President Carter, on December 1, 1978, declared 56 million acres spread over 14 areas in Alaska as national monuments. More than 25 percent of the presidentially created monuments exceed 50,000 acres, including many that ultimately became national parks, such as Grand Canyon, Glacier Bay, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley, Olympic, and Joshua Tree. Timely action under the Antiquities Act protected these important places until Congress could act to designate them as parks. These lands are also important components of the National Landscape Conservation System.

A true bipartisan tool, we have worked with both parties to secure important protections through use of the Act and look forward to working with President Obama to provide permanent protection to the places the American public cares about. The Antiquities Act is one of our nation’s most valued conservation statutes. The act establishes appropriate roles for both the president and Congress in the protection of important public land resources.