National monuments are nationally important lands and waters that are set aside for permanent protection, primarily by U.S. presidents under the Antiquities Act. A president may also set aside land or water assets as a national monument and then Congress can change that land’s designation to another type of national park site. For example, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument in 1908 and Congress changed the designation to a national park in 1919.
On April 26, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order instructing the Department of the Interior to review national monuments (which are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and other agencies) designated under the Antiquities Act. Dozens of priceless public lands could be under threat. These vulnerable national monuments include Bears Ears National Monument, Utah; Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico; San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, California; Mojave Trails National Monument, California; World War II-Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Alaska, California and Hawaii; Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona; Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah; Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in Alabama; César E. Chávez National Monument, California; Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine; Pullman National Monument, Illinois and Stonewall National Monument, New York.
The Antiquities Act is a vital conservation tool that allows presidents to set federal lands aside for the American people. Any attempts to weaken an environmental law that has been working effectively since Congress established it in 1906 raises serious concerns. The Antiquities Act has been used by Republicans and Democrats alike to safeguard iconic sites throughout the country for more than a century. No president has attempted to revoke a predecessor’s monument designation, so this is new territory. The Interior Department will have 45 days to provide an interim report on Bears Ears National Monument and 120 days to provide a final report to the Administration.
Although Congress granted presidents authority to designate federal lands as monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the law does not include authority to diminish or abolish such designations. The Constitutional authority to revoke or shrink a national monument lies with the Congress.
We are grateful to our local representatives for jumping on board to defend our national parks which are so important to our ecosystems, our economy and our American identity. It is vital to protect these treasured lands so that future generations of Americans can enjoy them the way we do today.
Many thanks to our Congressional representatives Joseph Crowley, Peter King, Grace Meng, Kathleen Rice and Tom Suozzi.