Partners in Preservation: Zion National Park

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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

Signed into law on June 8, 1906, the Antiquities Act is our nation’s oldest law protecting historic, prehistoric, and scientific features on public lands. The Antiquities Act has enabled 18 presidents from both parties to swiftly protect historic sites and culturally important lands, ranging from the Statue of Liberty 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.

The Antiquities Act has been used to designate national monuments that reflect the full measure of our history. The law protects a diverse array of places, from natural wonders like Devil’s Tower to buildings like President Lincoln’s Cottage. More than 30 national parks and eight World Heritage Sites were first protected as national monuments, including the Grand Canyon.

Four Things To Know About The Antiquities Act

1. The President is not authorized by Congress to revoke 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.”

The extent to which presidents can unilaterally revoke past monument designations is the subject of heated debate and litigation. For example, the National Trust participated in a lawsuit, together with a broad coalition of tribes, environmental groups, and others, challenging the Trump Administration's efforts to reduce the Bears Ears National Monument by over 85 percent of its original size. We argue that 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. 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, represents a significant cultural landscape for local Native American tribes. Following its creation, federal land managers were tasked with developing a plan to utilize the area consistent with the Presidential Proclamation that established the monument, along with input from the public, tribes, and state and local governments. The original designation created the Bears Ears Commission with the intent to ensure that the five sovereign tribes with ancestral ties to the area would have a strong voice in managing the site. That intent has not been implemented.

3. 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 local 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.

4. 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. 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.