On the 107th anniversary of the signing of the Antiquities Act this month, Americans can count over 100 cultural sites, historic places, and wild landscapes as permanently protected, thanks to this important conservation measure.
President Teddy Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law on June 8, 1906, and then used it to safeguard iconic places like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Mount Olympus in Washington, and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Under the same authority, President Jimmy Carter forever saved 56 million acres of Alaska, our last frontier. President George W. Bush employed the law to establish 140,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean northwest of Hawaii as a marine national monument.
The 1906 Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities grants our commanders in chief the ability “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.”
Since the law's inception, 16 presidents—eight Republicans and eight Democrats—have used it to preserve places large and small, from historic and cultural sites such as President Abraham Lincoln's Anderson Cottage in Washington (2 acres), to large landscapes like the Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah (1.7 million acres). And the benefits to such designations go beyond historic preservation and land conservation to include economic development, boosting tourism and outdoor recreation, and ensuring a higher quality of life for local residents.
President Barack Obama enjoys the same discretion to safeguard important landmarks and landscapes across the country, and he's used it. To date, he has created nine national monuments, the most recent of which included the Rio Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico, the largest of his nine at 240,000 acres.
Conservationists continue to call on the Obama administration and Congress to take action to protect our public lands. If forward progress in Congress on wilderness and other public lands legislation slows, the Antiquities Act could prove invaluable once more.