WASHINGTON – It’s been more than a century since President Theodore Roosevelt named Devils Tower in Wyoming a national monument.
The American Antiquities Act,created by Roosevelt that same year,1906,gives the president the ability to designate an area as a national monument without the approval of Congress.
Now,supporters of wilderness conservation efforts are hoping President Barack Obama will be the 16th president who uses the Antiquities Act to protect more public land. However,they say,this effort,along with other political conservation efforts,has to start in places such as Utah and Idaho,not in Washington.
“We need to quickly organize support for protecting some of these special places,” Athan Manual,director of land protection at the Sierra Club,said at a congressional briefing Thursday.
Speakers at the briefing outlined a few of the bills that are pending in Congress and some of the roadblocks they face. The House Natural Resources subcommittee on National Parks,Forests and Public lands held a hearing Sept. 13,to discuss six bills that would limit the president’s “unilateral” power in the Antiquities Act. In 2010,the White House released a document listing 14 areas of federal land worthy of receiving a national monument designation.
“Using the Antiquities Act would allow theadministrationto circumvent the open congressional process,which helps ensure that the livelihoods of communities,residents,businesses and stakeholders are examined and thoughtfully considered before new public land designations are made,” Rep. Rob Bishop,R-Utah,the subcommittee chair,said in a statement.
The Wilderness Society,one of the organizations present at the briefing,condemned the bills proposed at the House Natural Resources hearing in a press release. The group said the proposals come during an “onslaught of attacks from House leadership on our nation’s lands and the recreation economy they support.” Other recent “attacks” the organizations at the briefing cited include the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act,which would remove or “release” several wild areas from federal protection.
Speakers at the briefing emphasized the need for grassroots activism and a “bottom-up” approach as catalysts for federal change,such as involvement in local town halls in regions where the wilderness areas in question exist.
“In D.C.,the legislative process is not exactly flowing like a clear mountain stream these days,” Rick Johnson,executive director of the Idaho Conservation League,said. “It’s sort of rolling and tumbling,as the old bluegrass song says. It’s arguably a mess. But that doesn’t change a single stitch of the work we do back home.”
Reach reporter Ariana Stone at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.