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A Small Law With a Mighty Big Take

Fall 2013

A Small Law With a Mighty Big Take
Caught up in presidential excess and the Antiquities Act.
By Teresa Platt

After President Theodore Roosevelt designated the first national monument in 1906 — less than 1,200 acres surrounding Devils Tower in Wyoming — he went big, using the act a total of 18 times for national monument designations which included 800,000 acres in the Grand Canyon in 1908 and more than 600,000 acres around Washington’s Mount Olympus in 1909.

President Calvin Coolidge’s proclamations were equally grandiose. He set aside 1.4 million acres as a new national monument in Glacier Bay, Alaska, in 1925; President Franklin Roosevelt enlarged it by another 900,000 acres in 1939. Various other presidents engaged their Antiquities Act powers, including President Clinton who set aside almost two million acres in his controversial Grand Staircase-Escalante designation in Utah. George W. Bush went to sea and used the act to protect hundreds of thousands of square miles—hundreds of millions of acres —in the Pacific from use including fishing. President Barack Obama used the act as recently as 2013 when he designated five new national monuments in Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington. The largest area, 240,000 acres, is in the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico. President Obama previously set aside four monuments, two in California and one each in Virginia and Colorado.

Presidents have used the unilateral power granted them in the Antiquities Act to transform hundreds of millions of acres of productive multiple-use areas into what is essentially a very limited recreational category.

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