Letters From the West

Labrador rejects argument that bipartisan support justifies Antiquities Act power

Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador said he rejects the view that since the law that allows a president to protect an area without Congress has bipartisan support, it should not be changed.

Labrador, testifying before the House Resources Committee public lands and environmental regulation, said just because Republican presidents have used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect places like Grand Canyon and Craters of the Moon, doesn’t make it right.

“I oppose the imposition of any federal lockup of Idaho federal land without congressional oversight,” Labrador said. “ I oppose Republicans on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I oppose Republicans on the Patriot Act and I will oppose a Republican’s efforts to lock up land in Idaho under the Antiquities Act.

Bad policy is bad policy whether enacted by a Republican or a Democrat.”

Labrador has reintroduced his bill that would require a president to get congressional approval before a national monument could be created. Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have used the law to protect cultural, historic and natural areas by simply showing what will be protected, why it is threatened and how it will be protected.

The spectacular Mesa Falls are the highlight of Idaho's Yellowstone under consideration as a national monument.

The spectacular Mesa Falls are the highlight of Idaho’s Yellowstone under consideration as a national monument.(Idaho Statesman photo)

The House panel heard testimony on a number of bills that would limit a president’s discretion like bills that came in Wyoming and Alaska after huge national monuments were designated in those states. It comes as Interior documents obtained by the Idaho Statesman show that the agency under former Secretary Dirk Kempthorne drafted proclamations, which if signed by President George Bush, would have created national monuments out of the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains and the Island Park Caldera.

But Kempthorne backed off when he realized there wasn’t time for the kind of local public involvement that nearly everyone who testified Tuesday agreed is needed before a monument is created. Supporters of the act say the act is necessary because in many cases the very committee holding the hearing has bottled up monument proposals with wide local support like the San Juan Islands in Washington and Fort Monroe in Virginia, which President Obama created last month.

“Without this law the future of Fort Monroe would still be uncertain,” said Rep. Bobby Scott.

For Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the subcommittee, the creation of the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by President Bill Clinton in 1996 is Exhibit A for his case to reform the law. Clinton made the designation in Arizona with only a 2 a.m. call the morning of his announcement to the Utah governor.

The area had been used for grazing and has coal that became off limits when the area became a national monument. Two decades later state school lands have not be traded out with federal lands and power line right-of-way issues have not been resolved, Bishop said.

“Reform is needed to prevent mistakes of the past,” Bishop said.

Even Clinton learned from his mistake. His Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt carried out an extensive public process and met with ranchers before expanding Craters of the Moon National Monument in 2001. He backed off creating a monument for the Owyhee Canyonlands because he didn’t have the time.

People who have been pushing for national monuments in their areas for years said they have been frustrated by the Congressional gridlock that has prevented places near their communities from getting the protection they want.

“Congress has the right to reverse these decisions,” said Michael Whiting, Archuleta County Commissioner from Colorado where Obama created the Chimney Rock National Monument in 2012. “This is a safety valve for local communities trying to accomplish something.”

Labrador said national monument status would hurt tourism and local economies. But winter visitation to Chimney Rock doubled after the designation Whiting said at a press conference Monday. Other local officials said like Gale Morton, a city councilwoman from Marina Calif., said they saw national monuments as an economic driver.

There Obama created Fort Ord National Monument in the Monterey County area that attracts more than 3 million visitors a year.

“It’s a reason to stay for an extra day,” Morton said. “I want my city and the region to get our share of that money.”

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