The Antiquities Act and National Monuments

Devils Tower in northeast Wyoming was the first area protected under the Antiquities Act. It remains a national monument today.

A one hundred and eleven-year-old law is causing a fair bit of consternation right now. The Antiquities Act, signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt but proposed and passed in Congress, became law June 8, 1906. As laws go, it is relatively short, about one page, with four sections. It was intended largely to protect historical, especially Native American, sites in the West which were being decimated by souvenir hunters.

This law conferred to the president the power to designate a national monument without congressional approval. National Park designation requires the approval of Congress, an often long and involved process that lacked the immediacy deemed necessary to protect critical areas.

Theodore Roosevelt was the first to invoke the powers of the Antiquities Act establishing Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming on September 24, 1906.   By the time he left office in 1909, he had established 18 national monuments including Grand Canyon in Arizona and Mount Olympus in Washington.

Today, there are 129 national monuments including the most recently dedicated monument, Bears Ears, in Utah, established by presidential decree on December 28, 2016. In addition, about half of our 59 national parks started out as national monuments but were upgraded by Congress. There is currently a locally driven movement underway to change Craters of the Moon National Monument to a national park.

It is tempting to think of this law and its application as part of the agenda of the Democratic Party. However, since Roosevelt’s time, democratic and republican presidents have applied the law pretty evenly. In fact, in the past 111 years, only three presidents, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, have not used the act to designate a national monument. I suspect that Donald Trump will be the fourth.

In April of this year, President Trump signed a presidential order requiring the Department of Interior to review monument designations or expansions of 27 monuments since 1996 to determine if they are examples of presidential overreach—or misuse of this century-old law.

The crux of the issue is in the wording of the law. Section 2 states: “That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structure, and other objects of historic and scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected...” The last line, referring to the “smallest area”, is what causes much of the concern.

Determining what is the smallest area that still protects the specific values of the monument is a challenge.  For instance, should a monument protect the individual footprints of hundreds or even thousands of scattered archeological sites or does prudence dictate drawing an encompassing line around the whole thing, making a far larger monument but perhaps one that does a better job protecting the resource in question? How do you establish the smallest area for a resource with scientific value such as Craters of the Moon? What is the letter and what is the spirit of the law? To me, that is the question under debate and the fate of over two dozen monuments hangs in the balance.

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho