Environment Watch

Congressional committee moves to reshape monument playbook

House committee advances bill that would gut Antiquities Act, undermine bipartisan history of protecting public lands


The congressional House Natural Resources Committee advanced a bill introduced by a Utah representative that would fundamentally change the process and scope a president has to create a national monument.

House Resolution 3990 would, among other provisions, limit the size of national monuments (Taos' Río Grande del Norte National Monument is about a quarter of a million acres), protect only a limited number of objects rather than landscape-scale features and require local approval from county commissions for new monuments. Furthermore, the bill would expressly give the president the authority to reduce the size of national monuments.

The bill and its provisions come at a time when national monuments have become highly politicized.

The president has the authority to create national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the law that allowed former President Barack Obama to create the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. But the U.S. Department of the Interior, which houses the Bureau of Land Management, went through a four-month review of recent and large national monuments at the president's request. A leaked copy of the review suggested changing the management strategy of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, even though the monument's overarching planning guidelines are still being finalized.

The H.R. 3990 bill was approved with a vote of 23-17 and was introduced to the House of Representatives.

"The Antiquities Act is a powerful tool for the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat, and while it needs to be used in the right way and in the right place, H.R. 3990 takes away the tool altogether. It's time we focus our efforts on developing lasting and collaborative solutions to address public land management challenges instead of trying to dismantle a successful bipartisan tool for conserving fish and wildlife habitat," said Corey Fisher, public lands policy director for Trout Unlimited.

Taos' national monument has enjoyed broad support during and after the campaign to have it established by Obama, including repeated supportive resolutions from the Taos County Board of Commissioners.