New Bill Seeks to Dismantle Antiquities Act

Last week, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) introduced a bill that threatens the core values of the Antiquities Act, giving it the misleading title “National Monument Creation and Protection Act”. This bill would effectively gut the Antiquities Act, and it has already moved through the House Natural Resources Committee and is on its way to a potential House of Representatives floor vote.

Indian Creek | ©Andrew Burr

President Theodore Roosevelt established The Antiquities Act in 1906 to protect significant cultural (historic and archeological) or scientific features on America’s public lands. The Act is a fundamental conservation law that allows the President to protect federal lands when Congress is unable or unwilling to do so. It has been used by both Republican and Democratic administrations to shape our national system of parks and public lands. Several classic climbing areas, including Devils Tower and Joshua Tree (now a national park), were designated as national monuments through this Act.

Bishop’s new bill proposes only allowing the Antiquities Act to protect discrete, small-scale cultural and historic resource sites, prohibiting use of the Act to protect sensitive landscapes and geographic features like Grand Canyon, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Bears Ears. Landscape-scale protections are so important because ecosystems, geographic features, historic and archaeological resources, and Native American traditional values are all interconnected. The bill also proposes limitations and conditions on the size of national monuments, without regard for the actual size of the area under consideration. It would also mandate additional approval processes prior to designation (making it more difficult to invoke the Act), and it gives the President the authority to reduce an existing national monument without an act of Congress (which is currently illegal).

If this bill is passed into law, it could justify the reduction or rescission of national monuments like Bears Ears. A reduction of Bears Ears National Monument could expose Indian Creek and many other backcountry climbing areas to unmitigated oil and gas development. This bill threatens all national monuments and puts many climbing areas across the country at risk.

It is important to note that Congress has the authority to change or even rescind National Monuments. If Congressman Bishop is unhappy with the size of Monuments in Utah, the obvious course of action is to propose a bill on those monuments and pass it into law. But the integrity of the Antiquities Act must be maintained. While Access Fund generally prefers working with Congress on legislative solutions to protect public lands, use of the Antiquities Act is sometimes the only way to protect sensitive resources on our public lands when Congress is gridlocked. The National Monument Creation and Protection Act would effectively gut the Antiquities Act, diminishing a bedrock conservation tool that has been used effectively over 100 times for more than 100 years.

Access Fund is watching this legislation closely and will update the climbing community and issue a call to action if the bill continues to move forward.

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