Antiquities Act won't quietly go away

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Editorial

Folks are excited again in Southern Oregon, where at the very end of the Clinton administration a presidential proclamation created the Cascades-Siskiyou National Monument right on top of public lands that had been commercially grazed for a century.

It turns out the Obama administration has a "short list" of new national monuments -- and expansion of the controversial Cascades-Siskiyou, plus another tract, are on a list circulating at the Interior Department. The discovery of a monument short list early last month prompted the Public Lands Council to call for changes in the 1906 law that makes all of this possible.

They're talking about the Antiquities Act of 1906, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt and used to withdraw millions of acres of the public domain from multiple use. That law has twice been modified, once limiting monument creation in Wyoming, again for Alaska. Both came after unpopular monument designations bypassed Congress.

The PLC is right to sound an alarm. But if its member organizations -- all with a stake in public lands grazing leases -- think they can get another change to the Antiquities Act through the Congress now sitting in Washington, D.C., they've lost touch with political reality.

This is a law that just won't go away. Or be easily modified.

However, the law has a very real balancing bloc in that post-Alaska amendment. A vigilant state congressional delegation has tremendous leverage to block or modify withdrawals from multiple-use management. That leverage, we need to point out, is what worked 10 years ago in establishing cooperative private and public land management in the vast Steens Mountain area in southeastern Oregon.

And while Congress is holding Interior and the current administration to proper use of the Antiquities Act -- which is protection of prehistoric sites and conservation of habitat already owned by the federal government -- it ought to look at misuse of the executive pen in drawing boundaries for future national monuments.

It's no wonder some in Southern Oregon are again excited. The last time a national monument was created, boundaries were drawn around 85,000 acres, and at least 32,000 of those acres were in private hands. Because of apparent political considerations, the boundary stopped at the California-Oregon border, despite similar habitat on public lands south of the state line.

That act isn't about to go away. What we need are members of Congress who read the law, and stand up to those who would misuse it.

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