Hard work, cooperation, and thoughtful deliberation undone
QUESTION: What year in US history could be argued as the single most detrimental from a public-policy perspective for off-road motorcycle enthusiasts, general outdoor-recreation lovers, and states-rights proponents? Answer: 1906. That’s the year the Antiquities Act—otherwise known as the “National Monuments Act”—was passed, allowing the president of the United States to unilaterally set aside public land as conservation land without public comment or input.
At first glance, the Antiquities Act was not a bad idea, perhaps even noble. After all, who would argue against preserving and protecting our country’s rare natural wonders and heritage for future generations? In spirit, the Antiquities Act serves this purpose but only when implemented as originally intended using “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management.” Such power requires foresight, restraint, and a clear conscience regarding motivation.
Unfortunately, what was originally intended as an executive tool designed to expedite the protection of historical and culturally significant areas has now become a currency for paying back special interests and campaign debts. Former President Obama designated 34 national monuments encompassing 550,000,000 acres of public land during his presidency—almost twice as much as the next most active US president, Theodore Roosevelt. Some of this land includes national monument designation for areas that are already protected inside existing national parks.
The Antiquities Act has negative ramifications for all forms of public access and land-use policy in general. In many cases, it undoes years of hard work, cooperation, and thoughtful deliberation between private citizens, Native American interests, access advocacy groups, conservationists, and state and federal land-management agencies, which have all collaborated to develop thoughtful, balanced, and sustainable land-use policy. All undone with a single stroke of a pen.
When the Antiquities Act was first passed, the national park movement was in its infancy, and conservation in general did not exist. Likewise, a myriad of other state and federal landuse agencies and policies were decades away. Today, we have the National Park Service, the Wilderness Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Environmental Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, to name but a few. All have processes for designation and preserving our cultural heritage and natural resources.
With these in place, the Antiquities Act no longer makes sense. Federal ownership of land has taken management control away from states and local interests. The result has been environmental degradation of America’s national monuments and parks, billions of dollars in maintenance backlogs, lost economic opportunity, and concentration of power in Washington.
The current administration has asked the interior secretary to look into scaling back or reversing altogether the most recent national monument designations made by the Obama administration. And while the legality of scaling back or reversing the most egregious executive actions in this area will most likely play out in court, the off-road community can act now to help build momentum.
Let your voice be heard. Call or write your state representative and let them know how you feel. We must protect access to public lands for future generations of off-road motorcycle enthusiasts before we are all considered “antiquities” as well.
At first glance, the Antiquities Act was not a bad idea, perhaps even noble.