There’s nothing “monumental” about the Owyhee Desert, or the Smokey and Monitor valleys of central Nevada.
When they were put on a list for consideration as national monuments, Elko County Commissioners were quick to announce their opposition.
Now, a year and a half later, Republican congressmen are finally getting around to legislation that would limit the president’s ability to make such designations without congressional approval.
It’s about time.
The United States already has 100 national monuments, ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the massive Mariana Trench under the Pacific Ocean. Most of them are so obscure that the average American would be hard pressed to name half a dozen (no, Mount Rushmore is not among them, but Mount St. Helens is).
The only thing notable about the “Heart of the Great Basin” area is its petroglyphs, but we already have a Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico containing 25,000 of them. Who knew?
According to an internal Department of Interior memo that was leaked early last year, the central Nevada valleys comprise “one of North America’s least appreciated wildland mosaics.” Not exactly a billboard phrase worthy of drawing tourists from the nearest freeway.
Although presidents from both major parties have designated national monuments over the years, House Republicans behind the current legislation suggested the Obama administration was not merely trying to protect significant landscapes.
“The Treasured Landscapes memo served as a canary in a coal mine, lifting the veil off the disingenuous agenda hatched by the current Administration to unilaterally lock up millions of acres throughout the West from multiple-use,” said U.S. Rep Rob Bishop, R-Utah, at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday.
“It has become public that the Obama Administration is attempting yet another land grab that would add over 13 million acres to federal real estate land holdings,” echoed Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. “Considering the size of the federal government’s existing real estate portfolio, there is no need to continue unilaterally acquiring new lands without any regard to states rights or economies.”
Others at the hearing argued whether such designations economically helped or hindered populated areas such as southern Utah, where many locals are still fuming over President Clinton’s designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Either way, presidents should not be using such authority as a political tool, a practice that started with President Carter in Alaska during the late 1970s.
The Antiquities Act made sense when Congress passed it in 1906. Today it is being used for an entirely different purpose, and decisions affecting such vast areas should be placed back in the hands of Congress, whose members must answer directly to the constituents in their home states.
Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are John Pfeifer, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak McKown.