Two Idaho lawmakers want to make changes in the Antiquities Act, the 1906 legislation that gives the president the authority to create national monuments on public lands by proclamation.
They believe — rightfully, we think — that local people should have some say in such actions.
The authority to create national monuments comes with few restrictions. The president, “in his discretion,” can designate almost any piece of federally owned land a national monument for “the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest.”
Although the act makes mention of protecting historic and prehistoric structures, there is no statutory definition or limit on what may be found to be of historic or scientific interest. Presidents have used the act to preserve wild areas.
It’s easier than establishing a wilderness area, or a national park — both of which require congressional approval — but can impose similar restrictions on how the land can be used.
Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Raul Labrador, both Republicans from Idaho, have introduced legislation in their respective chambers that would require approval by both Congress and the affected state legislature before a president can declare a new national monument.
We doubt any president, let alone the current chief executive, would give up even this limited unilateral power to rule by decree without a bill that passes with a veto-proof majority. It’s unlikely one exists for this measure.
The effort is not without precedent. The Antiquities Act has been twice modified.
In 1943 President Franklin Roosevelt established the Jackson Hole National Monument, an unpopular proclamation in Wyoming. In 1950 when Congress enlarged Grand Teton National Park, that legislation altered the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval for the creation or expansion of national monuments in Wyoming.
After President Jimmy Carter proclaimed national monuments incorporating 56 million acres in Alaska, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The act requires that Congress approve the creation of any new national monument in Alaska larger than 5,000 acres.
We would not argue that the Antiquities Act has not preserved legitimate cultural treasures. We might not have the Grand Canyon in its current state had Theodore Roosevelt not protected it by making it first a national monument.
Our problem is geography. More than half the land in the West is owned by the federal government, in contrast to 4 percent of the land east of the Rockies. These proclamations have a disproportionate impact here.
In the day when Manifest Destiny was official policy, settlers were encouraged by the government to come West to cut timber, mine minerals and graze livestock. The livelihoods of local families and communities depend on access to public lands.
The restrictions on the use of public lands are already significant. Western farmers, ranchers and timbermen rightfully fear the additional restrictions these proclamations can impose.
It seems that they should have at least the same consideration afforded the people of Wyoming.