Should Obama Create More National Monuments?

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Depending on your perspective toward public lands, the Antiquities Act of 1906 is either one of the best laws to pass in America or the worst. The law, as you might know, gives the president the authority to create national monuments without the approval of Congress, a tool that both Republican and Democratic presidents have wielded with enthusiasm.

There are 142 national monuments, and, while Democrats have created about 50 percent more than GOP presidents, it’s not like Republicans have been sitting on their pens: They’ve created 84 of them.

But these are different times. Would a Republican president create a national monument today? It’s an easy way to burnish their conservation legacy, but it’s also difficult to remember a time when lawmakers, mostly Republicans by far, have been more antagonistic toward public lands.

Late last month, the Senate voted 51 to 49 to sell or give away nearly all of the lands own collectively by Americans – all federal lands except for national parks and monuments – to states or local entities. Read that again. The Senate, supposedly the body of careful deliberation and debate, wants to get rid of our national forests, BLM lands, and other public commons.

As the New York Times wrote, “If the measure is ever implemented, hundreds of millions of acres of national forests, rangelands, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas and historic sites will revert to the states or local governments or be auctioned off. These lands constitute much of what’s left of the nation’s natural and historical heritage.”

Not long after that, the House of Representatives, not known for its careful deliberation, voted for a resolution that said the holdings of the federal government – meaning us, the American people – are “far too large” and should be sold or given to states and localities.

Meanwhile, in Utah, the governor has demanded the federal government turn over millions of acres to the state, and Utah has set aside a $2 million fund to sue Uncle Sam if it doesn’t happen.

Into this fractious climate comes President Obama, who enters his last couple years of office with an eye toward pumping up his environmental bona fides. He’s already created or enlarged 16 national monuments, as well as converting Central California’s Pinnacles from a national monument to park. Is making more a no brainer? Will it further pollute the relationship between conservationists and those who want to dump public lands? Almost 20 years later, Utahns are still bitter about Bill Clinton creating Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, even though it’s brought widespread economic benefits to counties without much else besides tourism. Do the ends justify the means when preserving public lands?

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This week, one poll participant will receive Smith Optic’s Serpico sunglasses. We’ll pick the winner via random number generator (and announce it here) – all you have to do to enter is vote and leave a comment so we have your email to contact you. Must have a U.S. or Canadian address. Contest ends Sunday, April 19, at midnight PST.

Congratulations to Aidan Ehrenberg, who wins the Smiths this week!

Photo by Wolfgang Staudt




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