The Antiquities Act allows for presidents to create National Monuments out of federal land, which protects the wildlife within the land and preserves any scientific or historical importance.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton invoked the act to create the 1.88-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument, “A Delaware-sized museum of sedimentary erosion that walks you down through a 200-million-year-old staircase of animals (that’s us!), minerals and vegetables— a.k.a the longest, slowest front porch ever.”
In 2006, President Barack Obama used it to designate Bears Ears, also in southern Utah, as a National Monument. Bears Ears carries great cultural and religious significance for Indigenous peoples, as well as natural beauty and archaeological richness unlike anywhere else in the United States.
Both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears have lost vast swathes of land to an executive order that President Donald Trump passed in 2017.
“I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach,” Trump said during a visit to the Beehive State.
This order forced the Department of the Interior to review the National Monuments created through the Antiquities Act, making it possible to rescind designations entirely. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reduced the size of Bears Ears by about 85% and cut Grand Staircase in half, opening up the excised lands to use by energy developers and ranchers.
With Trump’s Departure, President Joe Biden promised to “take immediate steps to reverse the Trump Administration’s assaults on America’s natural treasures,” including Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante.
For communities near the national landmarks affected, restoration of the Antiquities Act is a top priority.
The San Juan County Commission has already passed a resolution calling on Biden to restore the original boundaries of Bears Ears. The commission voted 2-1 on the resolution that said Trump’s decision in 2017 was illegal and asked Biden to make it a priority in his administration to restore the monument to its original size.
As national monuments provide protected regions for native flora and fauna, national marine monuments do the same for marine life. Several of these monuments were targeted by the Trump Administration for removal or reduction. Those plans were met with resistance by conservationists and organizations like the Healthy Oceans Coalition.
“Eliminating or reducing the size of a single marine national monument and eliminating protections against drilling, commercial fishing, and deep-sea mining are not just bad ideas, but fly in the face of protecting special places in light of climate change. Not only would it be a major blow for precious wildlife, but also for local communities and businesses,” the Coalition reports. “Communities and businesses overwhelmingly support marine national monuments – removing monument designations would be a highly unpopular decision. Americans widely agree that special places on land and in the ocean should be set aside from development, so future generations can enjoy them.”
The Biden Administration may decide to reverse Trump’s executive order, but two bills currently sitting in congressional committees could accomplish the same ends.
H.R.1050 and S.367, or America’s Natural Treasures of Immeasurable Quality Unite, Inspire, and Together Improve the Economies of States Act, would provide for the administration of certain national monuments, establish a National Monument Enhancement Fund, and establish certain wilderness areas in the States of New Mexico and Nevada.
Join millions of other Americans in standing up for our National Monuments and support the passage of these bills. Click below to make a difference.Whizzco