The U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision to retain all 27 national monument designations created under three previous presidents sheds little light on what, if any, management changes might be made at the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. But the Republican Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources told reporters today that changes are being discussed for the federal law regulating the transfer of private property to the government.
Landowners such as Roxanne Quimby should never have been permitted to donate large parcels of land to the U.S. government under the Antiquities Act of 1906 according to Utah Congressman Rob Bishop. The Republican chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources says previous administrations have misconstrued the intent and purpose of the Act, signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt, that gives presidents the authority to preserve and protect federal lands that possess significant natural, cultural, or scientific features.
“Congress never intended one individual be given the power to unilaterally dictate land management policies for enormous swaths of public land,” Bishop says.
During a teleconference call with reporters, Bishop said there was never any congressional intent to use the act as a delegation of power to the president to use executive fiat to acquire public lands.
“Now if you look at the actual language of the antiquities act, you’ll quickly see that it was designated to protect specific landmarks, structures and objects and they are to be on limited parcels of federal land that are confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected,” he says.
When Congress returns from recess, Bishop said it must look at the presidential abuses of the Act, set reasonable constraints on the use of the act by the chief executive and restore it to what he says is its originally limited purpose.
“Only Congress can permanently prevent future abuses and they must act to do so,” Bishop says. “We need to reform the Antiquities Act to ensure that it’s being used to protect antiquities, but also that there is public access to these lands and that there is public input to it and that it’s done in a transparent process — and that’s clearly not being done at the present time.”
In Bishop’s home state of Utah, the review by the Interior Department of the 1.4 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument pits conservationists against energy development companies who have signaled an interest in uranium deposits at the site as well as potential reserves of oil, gas and coal. President Trump referred to the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument by President Barack Obama as a “massive federal land grab.”