Yesterday President Donald Trump announced 2 million acres of reductions in the size of two tracts of land—Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante, set aside by President Obama as national monuments under the 111-year-old Antiquities Act. Predictably, Green lobbyists are up in arms. Ordinary citizens—not so much. Conservatives are celebrating, particularly because Trump’s action is a move back toward federalism.
As Shawn Regan writes in National Review, the act “allows presidents to unilaterally set aside federal lands to protect objects of historical, cultural, or scientific significance. The act was designed mainly to prevent looting of Indian artifacts, and designations made under it were to be confined to ‘the smallest area compatible with proper care and management’ of the protected objects.” But the act “has been abused as a large-scale conservation policy issued by presidential proclamation. Since 1996, both Republican and Democratic presidents have used it to set aside more than 11 million acres of land, as well as about 760 million acres of ocean as marine monuments. President Barack Obama, no stranger to executive authority, used the act to create more national monuments than any other president.” Presidents have acted largely in disregard of the wishes of the citizens, legislatures, and governors of the affected states.
Regan argues that now would be a great time for Congress to repeal and replace the Antiquities Act with one that would show greater respect to our federal system, returning control of public lands to the most local levels possible—and indeed, privatizing much public land. We agree.