First For Hunters Blog

Congressional Debate Over Antiquities Act Reform Heats Up

Oct 16, 2017

Safari Club International lobbying efforts in the nation’s capital pay off again.

During SCI Lobby Day this past spring, members asked lawmakers to modernize the Antiquities Act.

The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources recently approved legislation that proponents claim will restore the original intent of the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) introduced HR 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act.  The goal is to modernize the law and to provide a mechanism for transparency and more public input.

Safari Club International members made modernizing the Antiquities Act one of its requests of Members of Congress during this year’s D.C. Lobby Day in May.

The Act is credited for preserving many of America’s greatest natural treasures, like the area that now makes up the Grand Canyon National Park, in the decades after its enactment in 1906.

However, designations by Presidents since the 1990s of multi-million-acre “monuments” have led to calls to reform the 1906 law.

In an Oct. 10 op-ed piece in the Washington Examiner, Chairman Bishop noted that prior to 1943, the Antiquities Act functioned as intended and that Presidents respected the intent of the act.

“Most monuments were smaller and had clear boundaries with real antiquities inside them,” said Bishop.  “By contrast, designations under the act last year [2016] averaged 739,645 acres, or more than 47 times the size of those created 110 years ago.”

Bishop continued: “President Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to use the act.  He used it 18 times for a combined total of 1.5 million acres.  President Barack Obama used it 37 times to designate 553.6 million acres of land and water.”  That is an area five times the size of California.

Currently, the President can make these designations with no formal input from the public or Congress and can sign them into existence with the stroke of a pen.

HR 3990 seeks to rein-in this power.  It limits the designation to protecting “objects of antiquity,” instead of the current broader language.  It also requires different review and approval, depending on the size of new monument:

  • The President may make designations up to 640 acres without additional review;
  • Designations between 640 and 5,000 acres will require review under the National Environmental Policy Act, which provides a structured process for public input and informed decision-making.
  • Designation between 5,000 and 10,000 acres will require preparation of an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement under NEPA; and
  • Designations between 10,000 and 85,000 will also require approval by affected local and state governments.

Chairman Bishop’s bill allows the President to make designations for up to one year under emergency circumstances, and prohibits the designation of “marine” monuments—something not envisioned in the original law.

Despite objections raised by environmental groups, the Committee favorably voted 23 to 17 along party lines to recommend the bill for House consideration.

The Committee also unfavorably reported a resolution offered by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) demanding President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke send the House all documents and communications relating to Secretary Zinke’s review of certain past monument designations.

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