Hard work, co­op­er­a­tion, and thought­ful de­lib­er­a­tion un­done

Motorcyclist - - Contents - —Scot Har­den

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.

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