Interior Department is Correct: Antiquities Act Should be Modernized

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced his review of national monument designations created since January 1, 1996, yesterday –including those national monuments designated under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

Zinke said President Trump authorized him to review any national monument created since this date, which spans at least 100,000 acres. The Interior Secretary says the goal of this review is to “to make sure the people have a voice” over lands that have the highest level of protection from the federal government. The review is expected to be conducted over the course of 45 days.

This move comes after the last administration’s controversial designation of Bears Ears National Monument last December in Utah, which was unanimously opposed by all Republican lawmakers–both federal and local–in the state. Here were Senator Mike Lee’s thoughts on this controversial designation of Bears Ears National Monument from December:

During a White House press briefing, Zinke said “The 45-day review is pretty much centered on Bears Ears because that is the most current one.” The report is expected to be completed within 120 days, he said.

Zinke added, “It restores the trust between local communities and Washington.” The review of the two dozen or so monuments aims “to give Americans a voice and make sure their voices are heard,” he said.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 was the first law of its kind to make any designation of national monuments with regards to historic preservation policy. Regardless of your take on public lands, which is very convoluted and multifaceted, one thing is for certain: this law needs to be overhauled and modernized. Here’s the gist of it:

Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby 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: Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fied unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.

Sec. 3. That permits for the examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, and the gathering of objects of antiquity upon the lands under their respective jurisdictions may be granted by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and War to institutions which the may deem properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering, subject to such rules and regulation as they may prescribe: Provided, That the examinations, excavations, and gatherings are undertaken for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects, and that the gatherings shall be made for permanent preservation in public museums.

Here’s how social media weighed in on this move:

Zinke believes this review of the Antiquities Act is necessary as his predecessors at Interior stretched it too far to prevent development on millions of acres near land and sea. He believes the law was also abused to cut off access to public lands to anglers, hunters, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.

“By and large, the Antiquities Act and the monuments that we’ve protected have done a great service to the public,” he said, although Western state residents “would probably say it’s abused. My position is, I’m going to be looking into it and evaluating it on a legal basis.”

“I think the concern I have and the president has is when a monument is designated, the community should have a voice,” Zinke added. “I am not going to predispose what any outcome will be. I am going to talk to congressional delegations as I review the list, talk to governors, stakeholders involved and formulate recommendations that are appropriate.”

Why shouldn’t citizens have a say over the designation of national monuments in their backyards? Big government coming in and usurping lands with minimal to no public input–which they ultimately forbid hunting, fishing, and hiking on–should anger true conservationists. How can lands be public if the public is refused a voice ? Zinke recognizes the problem with preservation and has instead ushered in a return to true conservation.

Before the fear mongering starts to set in, let’s see what Secretary Ryan Zinke comes up with. He’s not going to sell off all public lands for oil and gas exploration. He’s not going to abuse his privileges. He’s actually offering to be transparent–a key facet absent in his predecessors. To keep public lands truly public, allowing input from those who’ll be impacted by such national monument designations is important. I welcome the improvement and modernization of the Antiquities Act of 1906 and hope you will too.

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