Forests Forever

Restore • Reinhabit • Re-enchant

New Congress must strengthen Antiquities Act, public lands safeguards

In a strong response to the Trump administration's unprecedented attack on America's public lands a group of 18 Democratic senators in 2018 introduced a bill to reinforce the landmark Antiquities Act of 1906.

S.B. 2354— the Antiquities Act of 2018— embodied a powerful message that our public lands belong to all Americans. Only Congress has the authority to modify national monument designations.

On Apr. 29, 2017, Donald Trump issued an executive order targeting more than two dozen monuments — including seven in California, which Forests Forever campaigned to defend.

Then Trump and his interior secretary at the time, Ryan Zinke, ignored the overwhelming expression of the American people to preserve our public lands heritage: Even though over 99 percent of the more than 2.8 million comments received during the public comment period were in support of protecting our national monuments the administration took action to rescind more than 2 million acres of these protections.

If their efforts withstand court challenge they would represent the largest rollback of federally protected lands in U.S. history.

Our national monuments are part of who we are as a nation. They uphold our historical and cultural heritage, preserve biodiversity and assist in combatting climate change, as well as providing unmatched economic and recreational value in their regions and beyond.

We must not allow one reactionary presidential administration to slash protections and strip these treasures from the American people.

The Antiquities Act of 2018 would have protected and enhanced national monuments in three main respects. The bill would have:

  • officially declared Congress' support for the 51 national monuments established by presidents of both parties between January 1996 and April 2017 under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
  • reinforced and clarified that presidential proclamations designating national monuments are valid and the monuments cannot be reduced or diminished except by an act of Congress.
  • enhanced protections for national monuments by 1) requiring that they be surveyed and mapped and that management plans be completed in two years, in the same manner as congressionally designated national monuments, and 2) ensuring that they receive additional resources so they continue to meet their full potential of providing unmatched economic, recreational, and cultural benefits to their states and to the nation.

Since it became law 111 years ago, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents to designate 157 much-beloved national monuments.

No president has the authority to undo Antiquities Act protections set in place by his or her predecessors.

Our public lands belong to all of us. We will not sit idly by and allow these immensely popular and valuable natural areas to be subject to despoliation by timber, mining, motorized recreation, and ranching/grazing industries.

S.B 2354 would have provided an added layer of insurance to the protected status of all monuments so they may remain open and unspoiled for generations to come. We intend to keep up the fight and campaign for monument-strengthening legislation in 2019 and beyond.

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  • Here is more on the ANTIQUITIES Act of 2018. And here is yet more. We hope it will fare better in a more environmentally friendly Congress.
  • The Trump Administration's move to reduce Utah's Bear's Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments and open them up to mining claims is being challenged in court. Learn more here.
  • California's Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument has been on the chopping block too. Click here for more.

Forests Forever:
Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection
John J. Berger

from Forests Forever Foundation
and the Center for American Places