RE: Opposition to bills that would undermine the Antiquities Act and block new parks – S. 437, S. 1416 and S. 3317.
September 21, 2016
On behalf of the undersigned organizations and our millions of members across the country, we are writing to express our opposition to the “blocking new parks” bills (S. 437, S.1416, and S. 3317) being heard before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday September 22nd. It is disappointing to see three separate bills to undermine the Antiquities Act – the law which is responsible for originally protecting nearly half of our national parks – being advanced less than a month after our country celebrated the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
Since it was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used on a bipartisan basis by 16 Presidents (8 Republicans and 8 Democrats) to protect America’s most iconic natural, cultural, and historic places including the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, Fort Monroe, the Pacific Remote Islands, and Acadia, Zion and Olympic National Parks. The sheer diversity of historic, cultural, and natural treasures that have been protected by the Antiquities Act is the reason why groups representing sportsmen, cultural heritage organizations, evangelicals, conservation, recreation businesses, historic preservation, and many others all oppose efforts to undermine this vital law.
Not only do national monuments protect our irreplaceable natural, historic, and cultural resources for future generations, they benefit local economies today. A recent report released by Small Business Majority finds that the 10 natural and cultural monuments protected by President Obama are responsible for $156.4 million in annual economic benefits for local communities and that visitation to these areas drastically increases following designation.
Senate bills S. 437, S. 1416, and S. 3317 are an attempt to block the designation of, and weaken protections for, new national monuments. These attempts to block new parks on land and in our oceans are something that is wildly out of step with the American public’s interest in protecting our special places – especially apparent during the celebration of the National Park Service’s centennial year. According to Colorado College’s 2016 Conservation in the West Poll, 80% of western voters support “future presidents continuing to protect existing public lands as national monuments.” This poll reinforces other surveys that document widespread opposition to congressional attacks on new parks.
The changes proposed in these bills – S. 437, S. 1416, and S. 3317 – are entirely contrary to the intent and purpose of this celebrated and effective conservation tool. The Antiquities Act was created by Congress specifically to allow the President to act swiftly to protect irreplaceable national treasures at times when Congress is unwilling or unable to do so. It is nearly impossible to imagine the United States without being able to visit and celebrate our uniquely American places – from Glacier Bay to Dry Tortugas – but if the proposed bills had been included in the original Act, it is entirely possible these treasures could have been irreparably damaged.
Furthermore, national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act protect public lands and waters – and the historical, cultural and natural resources within them – owned jointly by all Americans. Granting a state legislature or Governor the ability to veto a designation, as S. 437 proposes, is entirely
different than encouraging local input and antithetical to the American system of public management of our shared lands and waters. Similarly, exempting federal public lands within a single state from one of our nation’s most important federal lands conservation statutes, as S. 3317 proposes, is troubling and inappropriate. S. 1416 would also force the federal government to partially relinquish management of the federal public estate, by prohibiting reservations of water rights. While uncommon, in certain cases these reservations can be critical to protecting the objects for which the monuments were designated in the first place. Our federal lands and waters are shared equally by all Americans and should managed for the public good, and not subject to exemptions and vetoes by those that do not act on behalf of the American public at large.
These bills are a clear effort to block new parks and not to protect local input. Recently successful community-led efforts to protect treasured public lands like Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument show that local collaboration and community input remain at the forefront throughout the monument-designation process, with robust public meetings prior to designations, thousands of public comments, and close contact with stakeholders to help guide management plans for newly protected sites and make recommendations for recreation and other uses.
For these reasons and many others, we write to share our opposition to these “blocking new parks” bills S. 437, S. 1416, and S. 3317. We appreciate the committee’s consideration of our position when examining these bills.
The Wilderness Society
National Trust for Historic Preservation National Parks Conservation Association League of Conservation Voters
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance American Rivers
Soda Mountain Wilderness Council
Los Padres ForestWatch
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
Oregon Natural Desert Association
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship The Conservation Alliance
Friends of Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Montana Wilderness Association
Friends of Cedar Mesa
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce New Mexico Voices for Children Conservation Law Foundation
Marine Conservation Institute
Natural Resources Defense Council
Vet Voice Foundation
Utah Diné Bikéyah
Partnership for the National Trails System Mystic Aquarium
The Ocean Project
Rivers & Birds
National Geographic Pristine Seas
Klamath Forest Alliance Epic-Environmental Protection Information Center
Conservation Lands Foundation
Center for Biological Diversity
The Trust for Public Land
Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center Defenders of Wildlife
National Audubon Society
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance Colorado Canyons Association
American Alpine Club
Verde Brand Communications
Sea to Summit
Bergans of Norway
Exxel Outdoors, Kelty, Sierra Designs, Ultimate Direction
Osprey Packs, Inc
Pikes Peak Outfitter
Colorado Tackle Pro
Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance Friends of Ironwood Forest
Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Monument
Alaska Wilderness League
California Wilderness Coalition
Friends of Arizona Rivers
Friends of the Desert Mountains
New Mexico Wildlife Federation
Mojave Desert Land Trust