Americans love their country's public lands and historic and cultural sites, and June 8 they'll have an opportunity to celebrate a major piece of legislation that has helped protect so many of those places: The Antiquities Act, signed into law on that day in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, gives the president the authority to designate federal public lands, ocean waters, and sites as national monuments.
The measure, which was debated for six years before Congress passed it, was prompted by rampant looting of archaeological sites on public lands in the Southwest in the late 1800s and the need to protect these artifacts for future generations.
Today, the nation benefits from roughly 160 national monuments—from Alaska and Hawaii to Maine and Florida—designated through the Antiquities Act. They are places where visitors explore, play, learn, and connect and serve as economic engines for local communities. Since becoming law 112 years ago, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents of both major parties to protect some of America's most beloved landscapes, seascapes, and historic and cultural landmarks.
Here are five national monuments that define our heritage, values, and commitment to future generations:
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognizable U.S. landmarks. The people of France gave Americans the statue to honor the abolition of slavery and the end of the Civil War. It was designated as a monument by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924. Since then, Lady Liberty has represented America's commitment to freedom and democracy.
Grand Staircase-Escalante, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, has proved to be an economic and scientific success. Since it became a monument, more than two dozen dinosaur species and other prehistoric fossils have been discovered there, and 146 scientists recently called the national monument an "important living laboratory." Between 2001 and 2015, personal income jumped 32 percent and jobs rose 24 percent in communities neighboring the national monument, according to a study by Headwaters Economics. Additionally, a 2016 poll discovered that 70 percent of voters surveyed felt the national monument had benefited the state's tourism industry. Even so, President Donald Trump significantly diminished the national monument's boundaries in December 2017.
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, was created by President George W. Bush in 2006 and expanded by President Barack Obama in 2016. The monument is home to the Hawaiian monk seal—one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world—as well as more than 7,000 other species, a quarter of which are found nowhere else. Cultural sites, including shipwrecks from the World War II Battle of Midway, are also within the monument. Many native Hawaiians see Papahānaumokuākea as sacred—the root of ancestral connections to the gods and where spirits return after death.
If you don't recognize the name of this popular place, it's because Sieur de Monts is known today as Acadia National Park. President Woodrow Wilson used the Antiquities Act to protect the area as a national monument in 1916, and Congress designated it a national park in 1919. Today, Acadia is both a stunningly scenic place to visit and an economic powerhouse. In 2017, the park attracted 3.5 million people who spent roughly $284 million, which supported 4,160 jobs, according to the National Park Service.
Cascade-Siskiyou is the only national monument explicitly designated to safeguard an area of outstanding biological diversity. Protected by President Clinton in 2000 and expanded by President Obama in 2017, the area is home to diverse and unique species as well as communities of plants and animals found nowhere else. After Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reviewed Cascade-Siskiyou, he recommended a boundary reduction and management changes even though there is strong local support for leaving the national monument intact.
Even as our country marks the 112th anniversary of the Antiquities Act, a bedrock conservation and preservation law, some lawmakers are advocating for restricting a president’s ability to designate monuments—or ending it altogether. Similar efforts over the years have been defeated in Congress. Please urge your members of Congress to stand with our nation’s national monuments and the law that protects them.