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Antiquities Act

“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

Theodore Roosevelt

The Antiquities Act has enabled 16 presidents from both parties to swiftly protect historic sites and culturally important lands, ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon to sites associated with Cesar Chavez. By establishing new national monuments or enlarging existing ones, our leaders have been able to preserve precious places for future generations to experience and enjoy.

On April 26, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Executive Order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act. The order directs the Department of the Interior to review more than 24 National Monuments, to decide whether they meet the requirements and objectives of the Antiquities Act, and to determine whether they balance their need for protection against the effects they may have on surrounding lands and communities.

This review has the potential to remove designations for national monuments such as Bears Ears in Utah (a National Treasure) and gives the White House the ability to remove more protections for historic and cultural landscapes in the future.

Five Things To Know About The Antiquities Act

1. The President may not be able to undo monument designations. Enacted in 1906, the Antiquities Act gives the president the ability to “declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments.”

Lawyers are in debate over the extent to which presidents can modify past designations, but one thing is clear: the President does not have explicit or implied legal authority to abolish national monuments. The Constitution gives Congress the power to manage federal lands, and Congress has given the president the authority to establish monuments that protect places, structures, and objects with historic or scientific relevance. However, only Congress retains the power to undo those protections.

2. Opponents of the Act might try to undo some designations anyway. Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, along with Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, support rescinding national monument designations in one way or another. Lee and Bishop released a paper from visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute John Yoo and executive director of the Pacific Legal Foundation Todd Gaziano, arguing that the president does have the ability to undo or at least reduce monument designations. Their recommendation: allow a new attorney general to examine the question of presidential authority.

3. Monument designation is often a public, local effort, and no two designations are the same. There isn’t a standard set of rules or restrictions used to designate a monument. Each national monument planning process is different, with many opportunities for public input along the way. Several monuments even incorporate land use such as industrial resource extraction if it doesn’t conflict with the monument’s intended purpose.

Bears Ears, for example, protects a significant cultural landscape for local Native American tribes. Many different parties developed a plan to best utilize the area with input from the public, tribes, and state and local governments. What’s special about Bears Ears’ planning process, for example? The designation created the Bears Ears Commission to ensure the five sovereign tribes with ancestral ties to the area have a strong voice in managing the site, and representatives from each tribe now serve on the committee.

4. National monuments are popular and can help local communities grow. In 2017, a poll from Colorado College found that 80% of Western voters support existing monument designation, and only 13% want to see designations removed. Even controversial monuments like Bears Ears and Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada receive more support than opposition in their own states.

Plus, thanks to a renewed interest in visiting national parks, national monuments give tourists and locals plenty of opportunities to explore public lands in a new way. Monuments and national parks can even help grow and diversify their communities’ economies. According to the National Park Service, 10 dollars in economic activity is generated for every dollar of federal investment in National Parks, which includes National Park Service National Monuments, Battlefields, Historic Sites, and other designations.

5. It's up to you—tell Congress why you support the Antiquities Act. It’s never too late to show your senator or representative that the Antiquities Act protects our nation’s cultural and historic resources. Whether you’re living in an area directly impacted by the Trump administration’s review of the Antiquities Act, you’ve visited one of the monuments under threat, or you’re passionate about protecting our country’s public lands, let your members of Congress know that you care about the fate of this act. Learn how you can help protect the Antiquities Act with our 10 Tips for Lobbying for Preservation toolkit.

Learn More About These National Monuments

In the current Congress, a number of bills and amendments threaten to significantly weaken the power of the Antiquities Act, a law that since 1906 has enabled presidents from both parties to save some of America’s most treasured places, from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon.

Ask Congress to stand up for the Antiquities Act, to help protect the places that help define us as a nation.

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National Trust Statement on Recently Disclosed National Monument Recommendations

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