Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Antiquities Act

Grand Canyon National Park
Current politics continues to provoke interest in the history of environmental law. John Leshy's and Mark Squillace's recent column in the New York Times on "The Endangered Antiquities Act" notes:
The act has been used more than 150 times, by nearly every president, Republican and Democrat, from Theodore Roosevelt on, to protect hundreds of millions of acres for the inspiration and enjoyment of present and future generations. Five of the nation’s 10 most-visited national parks — Grand Canyon, Zion, Olympic, Teton and Acadia, each attracting millions of people a year — were first protected by presidents using the Antiquities Act.


Some dislike the law because presidents have tended to use it late in their terms to sidestep opposition to their designations. But would anyone today seriously question the wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt’s using the act to protect what is today the core of Olympic National Park in Washington two days before he stepped down in 1909? Or Herbert Hoover’s safeguarding what are now three national parks, including Death Valley in California (1.3 million visitors last year), in his last three weeks in office in 1933? Or Dwight D. Eisenhower’s setting aside what is now the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (five million visitors last year) two days before John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961?

Because these presidential actions change the status quo and prevent development, they have sometimes incited local opposition. But over time, the growing popularity of these places often led Congress to recast them as full-fledged national parks.

That’s what happened after Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943 on land fronting the magnificent Teton mountain range in Wyoming. Outrage ensued. Senator Edward Robertson of Wyoming called the president’s action a “foul, sneaking Pearl Harbor blow,” and locals led a cattle drive across the new monument in protest. But by 1950, the monument’s benefits to local life and the economy persuaded Congress to incorporate it into Grand Teton National Park, and President Harry S. Truman agreed. In 1967, Cliff Hansen, a leader of the cattle drive protest who became a United States senator, acknowledged he had been wrong to oppose Roosevelt’s action. He called the expanded Teton Park one of his state’s “great assets.”
More on the current debate over the law soon.

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