This Bill Could Mean No More Grand Canyons

The Republican-controlled Congress is considering legislation to take away the president’s power to designate national monuments.

(Photo: Timothy Hearsum/Getty Images)

Jan 22, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

President Obama didn’t promise to veto this bill during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, but it’s a good bet he would: Congressional Republicans have introduced legislation to prevent presidents from designating public lands as national monuments.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Don Young, R-Ark., would change the century-old Antiquities Act—signed into law by Teddy Roosevelt—to force the president to seek congressional approval to create a national monument to protect public lands from development.

Democratic and Republican presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect such national treasures as California’s giant sequoia groves, Utah’s iconic stone arches, and the Statue of Liberty.

“There’s going to be no protection passing this House, easily or freely, with this majority in charge,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., told The Hill. “This Republican majority is genuinely, openly hostile to conservation designations.”

Historically, the Antiquities Act has enjoyed bipartisan support. Theodore Roosevelt protected the Grand Canyon (“Leave it as it is, you cannot improve on it,” he said), while George W. Bush set aside 140,000 square miles of Hawaiian waters and islands as the country’s largest national monument. Republicans have designated 82 natural sites as worth preserving over the years.

Democratic presidents have designated 102 national monuments—13 under President Obama. His most recent designation came last October, when he proclaimed 346,000 square acres of Los Angeles County’s San Gabriel Mountains a national monument.

National Monuments
(Infographic: Courtesy

This isn’t the first time Republicans have targeted the Antiquities Act. Last March, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would limit the number of national monument designations a president could make each term without Congress’ approval.

Here’s a look at some of the sights the Antiquities Act has protected over the years, and who protected them:

Devil’s Tower National Monument, 1906 (first declared national monument): Theodore Roosevelt

(Photo: Getty Images) 

Grand Canyon National Monument, 1908 (now a national park): Theodore Roosevelt

(Photo: Getty Images)

Statue of Liberty National Monument, 1924: Calvin Coolidge

(Photo: Timothy Clary/Getty Images) 

Arches National Monument, 1929 (now a national park): Herbert Hoover

(Photo: Getty Images)

Denali National Monument, 1978 (now a national park): Jimmy Carter

(Photo: Getty Images)

Giant Sequoia National Monument, 2000: Bill Clinton

(Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, 2006: George W. Bush

(Photo: James Watt)

The Antiquities Act by the numbers:

  • 16 presidents have created national monuments since the program began in 1906.
  • 82 national monuments have been proclaimed by Republican presidents.
  • 102 national monuments have been proclaimed by Democratic presidents.
  • 13 national monuments have been proclaimed by President Obama.
  • 6 national monuments have been proclaimed by President George W. Bush, including the nation’s largest: Papahānaumokuākea Marine Reserve in Hawaii.