Bill would bar president from creating national monuments in Arizona

By Emily Ronis

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona. ©Bob Wick/BLM

Congressional representatives from Arizona have introduced legislation to prevent the president from extending or establishing national monuments within state borders.

Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and and Andy Briggs (R-AZ) introduced H.R. 4797 on Jan. 16, which would limit the ability to to expand or establish monuments in Arizona to an act of Congress. The bill is an effort to curb allowances of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which grants the president broad powers to designate public lands as monuments to protect cultural, scientific or historical interests. Wyoming is the only state that requires Congressional approval for proposed monument designations. Congress amended the Antiquities Act in 1950 to require Congressional approval for monument expansion or designation in the state after President Franklin Roosevelt expanded Grand Teton National Park, despite opposition from state representatives.

Arizona currently has 18 national monuments, the most of any state.

“This issue is not political — no president, regardless of party affiliation, should have authority to lock away public land by executive fiat,” said Gosar, as quoted in E&E News.

In October, the House Natural Resources Committee approved legislation introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) to amend the Antiquities Act. The bill would specify which lands qualify for monument designation based on several factors, including acreage and proximity to existing monuments. The bill would also require each affected county and state to approve proposed monuments.

“The 1906 Antiquities Act was originally intended as an executive tool to protect historical and archeological artifacts and structures under threat,” Bishop in a statement. “Regrettably, this worthy goal has been manipulated for ulterior political purposes. Today the Act is too often used as an excuse for presidents to unilaterally lock up vast tracts of public land without any mechanism for people to provide input or voice concerns. This is wrong.”

The debate over federal overreach, especially as it relates to monument designation, was thrust into the spotlight last month when President Trump did the opposite, reducing Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircases Monument by roughly 50 percent. Environmental groups and tribes sued, arguing that the president did not have the authority under the Antiquities Act to reduce a monument established by a prior administration.

Now the Trump administration has motioned to have the cases heard in Utah courts, rather than in Washington, D.C. The administration prefers the Utah courts because “strong local interest outweighs the District of Columbia’s tie to the claims,” said the motion.

While these bills seek to limit the federal government’s ability to designate protected areas, Colorado representatives hope to expand federal protections in the state. On Jan. 24, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced legislation that would create three new wilderness areas and designate the first National Historic Landscape around the existing Camp Hale National Historic Site.

The bill would also establish two new wildlife conservation areas in an effort to enhance greater sage grouse habitat and protect a migration corridor for elk, bears, and mule deer.

Emily Ronis is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Emily's articles.