Letters From the West

Babbitt urges Obama to use the Antiquities Act

The last Congress was the first since World War II that did not designate a single acre of wilderness, Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt told the National Press Club Tuesday.

Babbitt urged President Barack Obama to set an annual target for conserving national lands for Congress to meet equal to the lands it opens for oil and gas leasing. If it doesn’t meet his goals, Babbitt said Obama should suspend leasing.

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt supports Mesa Falls Monument at National Press Club. (Photo courtesy Resource Media)

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt supports Mesa Falls Monument at National Press Club. (Photo courtesy Resource Media)

He should begin, Babbitt said,  by protecting 4 million acres to make up for the lack of protection during his first term. More than two million acres were leased for oil and gas development in 2011, according to the National Parks and Conservation Association.

Babbitt also urged Obama to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 not only to create national monuments, but also to motivate Congress to protect areas as President Clinton did with the Steens Mountain area in Oregon. Clinton’s consideration of the Owyhee Canyonlands as a national monument led to the protection of more than 500,000 acres of wilderness in southwest Idaho.

“The best defense of the Antiquities Act is to use it,” Babbitt said.

In response to a question, Babbitt expressed support for Obama designating lands surrounding Mesa Falls in eastern Idaho on the west side of Yellowstone National Park as a national monument. The area, proposed by an Idaho Statesman reader in 2007, was studied by Interior officials when former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was Interior Secretary.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West