Obama Designates Three New National Monuments

Published July 29, 2015

Over the objections of many local, state and federal legislators from the affected areas, in early July, President Barack Obama designated new national monuments in California, Nevada and Texas. 

The designation of more than 1,000,000 acres of public lands as national monuments, foreclosed previously allowed commercial and recreational activities those lands, leading some Republicans and local officials to accuse Obama of a backdoor land grab ignoring the interests of local residents. 

Obama’s designation Nevada’s Basin and Range site as a national monument was seen as a going away present to retiring Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who had been seeking monument status for the area for years. Obama also set aside more than 330,000 acres as the Berryessa Snow Mountain Monument in Northern California. In addition, the President established the Waco Mammoth National Monument, a comparatively small site in central Texas, where archaeologists have discovered remains of 24 Columbian Mammoths as well as the remains of other ancient species including the saber-toothed cat, dwarf antelope and the western camel. would join the list of national monuments. 

With the addition of these three new monuments, Obama has created or expanded 19 national monuments since becoming President, aggressively using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, to establish new monuments. 

While presidents have broad authority to designate historic or ecologically significant sites without congressional approval, protecting those areas from new development like mining, oil wells and grazing, many argue Obama has gone too far. They note the law was intended to be used on an emergency basis to protect sites of limited acreage from pending destruction, limiting the scope of a monument to “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” The 1906 law was originally to preventing the looting of antiquities on Indian lands. 

Congress Responds

Those decrying Obama’s actions include House National Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah., who said Obama had “shown complete disdain for Congress and the people of Nevada, California, and Texas.” 

“I condemn this shameful power move which makes states and citizens fearful that the federal government can invade at any time to seize more lands like bandits in the night,” Bishop said.

Saying, “This Antiquities Act has been abused,” Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy (R) successfully added an amendment to an Interior Department bill intending to block Obama from creating monuments in areas with local opposition, listing counties in Nevada, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah as off-limits. 

Taking a more comprehensive approach, Senate Bill 437, the Improved National Monument Designation Process Act, has been introduced to end the executive branch’s unilateral authority to declare monuments, requiring approval from Congress and any affected states before federal land can be designated a monument.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.