An Overdue Review of the Antiquated Antiquities Act

Kudos to President Trump for signing the Antiquities Act executive order today directing Interior Secretary Zinke to undertake the long overdue review of the misuses and abuses of the 1906 Antiquities Act. Created by President Theodore Roosevelt in the days when the West was largely unsettled and lands were unprotected, the law was meant to prevent the looting and destruction of Indian artifacts and ruins, local natural landmarks, and significant fossil sites and petrified forests by giving special protection to the smallest necessary area surrounding them.

It has long since served its purpose, however. Increasingly over the past quarter century, the Act has been used not to protect special sites, but rather to exercise national land-use control over vast areas of the West and effectively turn millions of acres at a time into de facto national parks or wilderness areas. The 1906 Act has become the Antiquated Act. It has usurped the proper role of Congress in creating national parks and wilderness areas and disenfranchised the American people, especially those most affected by the designations—the people who actually live in and adjacent to the areas being locked up.

Fittingly, the review will begin with President Clinton’s creation of the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southeastern Utah in 1996 and concluding with President Obama’s designation of the 1.4 million acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah in 2016. These designations were entirely unnecessary as they consisted of lands already owned by the federal government and already well protected. Instead they were mainly efforts to appease radical environmentalists and to turn multiple-use lands into single-use lands without congressional approval and against the wishes of the governors, congressional delegations, state legislatures, and citizens of Utah.

The creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was specifically aimed at preventing any utilization of the vast coal deposits of Utah’s Kaiparowits Plateau, one of the two largest deposits of clean coal on the planet and a resource that has been viewed as a vital part of America’s energy future.

Hopefully this executive order and Secretary Zinke’s review will put an end to the growing misuses and abuses of the antiquated Antiquities Act.