Obama creates 3 new national monuments, expands 2 others

In his last week, President Obama controversially announced the creation of three new national monuments and the expansion of two existing national monuments using the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Antiquities Act was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906. This law gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation alone, create national monuments from public lands to protect “significant natural, cultural or scientific features.”  Though what constitutes “significant” features has been very vague over the last 40 years, particularly in light of President Carter’s creation of national monuments in Alaska of over 56 million acres–effectively withdrawing them from public use.

The three new national monuments – the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and the Freedom Riders National Monument in Alabama and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in South Carolina – are meant to mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In a statement, Obama said that with these monuments, he “sought to build a more inclusive National Park System and ensure that our national parks, monuments, and public lands are fully reflective of our nation’s diverse history and culture.”

Obama also expanded two West Coast monuments – the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and the California Coastal National Monument. President Clinton created the California Coastal National Monument in 2000, and it was previously enlarged by Obama in 2014. This new expansion adds yet another 6,230 acres and six more coastal sites. Obama expanded the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, adding 42,000 acres of public land in Oregon and 5,000 acres of public land in California to the monument. According to the White House, this expansion was needed to “increase vital habitat connectivity, watershed protection, and landscape-scale resilience for the area’s unique biological values.”

Unfortunately, these new expansions also bar most public uses of the land that previously existed (i.e. motorized access, mineral and timber development, etc.), and they are unwanted by the majority of local residents whose livelihoods are often negatively impacted by the federal land grab. Local Politicians, miners, loggers, cattle farmers, sheep farmers, and dairy farmers in the targeted areas generally oppose the President’s aggressive use of the Antiquities Act as the people who have the most to lose by taking these lands out of use and development are the local residents.

During his administration, Obama has used the Antiquities Act to withdraw more than 550 million acres from the public’s use, both land and sea, by these additions to national monuments drawing sharp criticism from Republicans.