U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein asked President Barack Obama on Friday to bypass Congress and use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create three new national monuments in the California desert.
The move would extend federal protection over more than 1 million acres of mountain ranges, sandy expanses and forests running roughly between Palm Springs and the Nevada border.
Feinstein has argued that the area she wants designated as ‘Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains’ as a home to mountain lions, the California desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. But the real effort is to ban off-roaders, hunters and miners.
Section 3 required an “examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, or the gathering of objects of antiquity” on lands administered by the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, or War. The objects were then to be collected “for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects.”
But over the next century, Presidents from both parties, beginning with Republican Theodore Roosevelt, took advantage of the law to restrict private economic opportunity and take overrule state control. Republicans from a number of states consider the law to be outdated and are pushing for bills that would curtail Presidential authority.
President Barack Obama in February of this year proclaimed Pullman Historic District of Chicago, Browns Canyon in Colorado, and a former Honouliuli Internment Camp site in Hawaii as national monuments under the Antiquities Act. Congressional Republicans from Colorado reacted harshly to the designation of Browns Canyon, with one representative saying Obama was acting like “King Barack.”
Although the act specifically directs the President to limit the designation to the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected,” Yet, 16 Presidents have designated more than over 150 monuments. Beginning in 1906, Devils Tower in Wyoming became the first national monument. Other iconic monuments include the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Channel Islands and the Arches National Park.
President George W. Bush used the Antiquities Act five times and President Bill Clinton used it 19 times. But of the 285 million acres of land and marine areas designated as monuments, President Obama used his powers under the Antiquities Act to set aside 260 million acres of land and water.
Feinstein’s proposal to give federal protection to more than 1,560 square miles of California has gone nowhere in the Senate due to battles with a myriad of private interests.