The Antiquities Act of 1906 was the United States’ first national historic preservation policy, providing general protection for cultural and natural resources. Under the executive authority of this act, President Obama recently designated two new national monuments in order to protect about 1.35 million acres surrounding the Bears Ears Buttes in southeastern Utah and another 300,000 acres around Gold Butte in Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas.
As this action is being done just days before the inauguration of President Elect Donald Trump, many republicans are opposed to the preservation of this land, calling it a federal land grab. Others have also had opposition; Cliven Bundy, the family member of a Nevada rancher, protested this year by helping to take over a national wildlife refuge.
Although it may seem as though it does not make sense for Republicans to be distressed over the decision to preserve national and historic land markers, there are other reasons for their distress. As Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz said, “President Obama’s unilateral decision to invoke the Antiquities Act in Utah politicizes a long-simmering conflict. The midnight move is a slap in the face to the people of Utah, attempting to silence the voices of those who will bear the heavy burden it imposes.”
Placing the Bear Ears Buttes under federal protection is not a new idea; efforts to do so began in 1936 when Harold L. Ickes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s interior secretary, suggested the monument designation. Despite the idea of placing tribal land under commission beginning 81 years ago, President Obama’s designation of Bear Ears as a national monument is the first of tribal commissions of representatives from the five Native American tribes that live in the region.
In a phone call with reporters, Russell Begaye, the tribe’s president, supported the preservation of Bear Ears “as a place of refuge, as a place where we can gather herbs and plants and as a place of sacredness. It is a place of safety and fortitude. It is a place where our ancestors hid and survived from U.S. cavalry during the Long War.”
With the addition of Bears Ears, President Obama has designated a monumental 553 million acres as national monuments. However, President Elect Donald Trump has vowed to undo President Obama’s environment agenda, despite that no president has undone a predecessor’s designations in the law’s 111- year history.
Other designations of Obama’s are on the line as well; in the previous month, he used an obscure provision of a 1953 law to permanently place 115 million acres in the Arctic Ocean and about 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic Ocean off-limits to drilling. This is being challenged by oil companies, who have said that they intend to file a legal challenge.
Davenport, Coral. “Obama Designates Two New National Monuments, Protecting 1.65 Million Acres.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Dec. 2016. Web. 03 Jan. 2017.