Obama’s Unilateral Maine Action Proves: Time to Repeal Antiquities Act of 1906

Antiquities Act Allows President to Designate Federal Lands Without Congressional or Local Approval

Move Comes After White House Designates Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine Against Maine’s Wishes

Move Had Political Impacts, and Was Supported by Environmental Left

Washington, D.C. Two land rights experts with the National Center for Public Policy Research are asking Congress to repeal a 110-year-old law under which President Obama unilaterally created a “Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument” in Maine this week without the involvement of Congress or the approval of Maine.

The experts say the President’s action had a hidden political agenda, and argue that requiring Congressional approval for future such decisions will help remove the politics from the decisionmaking, and allow for greater input from affected communities.

“President Obama has created an economic dead zone in the North Maine Woods,” said Bonner Cohen, Ph.D., senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. “This is not an unintended consequence of the monument designation; this is exactly what Obama and the Greens want. By destroying the timber industry and other pillars of what’s left of Northern Maine’s rural economy, people seeking jobs will have no choice but to pack up and flock to urban areas to look for work. This will shift the political balance further to the advantage of the left, as the population of cities grows and that of rural areas sinks.”

“With the mere ‘stroke of a pen’ earlier this week, President Barack Obama unilaterally used an antiquated federal law to designate 87,563 acres (137 square miles) of north central Maine’s forests and small lakes as the latest national monument, the ‘Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument,'” said Robert J. Smith, also a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. “This designation turns these private lands into lands of the U.S. Department of Interior and places them under the management restrictions and regulations of the National Park Service, continuing the government’s voracious acquisition of private lands and expanding the ever-growing amount of government land ownership.”

“But arguably,” Smith continued, “the most pernicious aspect of this expansion of the federal land estate is the means in which it was accomplished. When the Antiquities Act of 1906 was passed, much of the United States and almost all of the land west of the Mississippi was thinly-populated wildlands. It was nearly impossible to police those vast expanses and prevent the raiding and theft of items from ancient Indian archeological sites and sites with significant fossil deposits or petrified wood. The purpose of the Antiquities Act was to give these areas some special protection by designating the smallest area necessary surrounding them as special units of the federal estate — national monuments. But over the years, and especially in recent decades, presidents from both parties have vied with each other as to who could lock up the largest swath of land in a near-wilderness category to prevent the use of its natural resources, and this has been accomplished in a manner completely antithetical to America’s most basic constitutional principles. With the unilateral stroke of a pen the president can designate any amount of the federal estate as a national monument, circumventing the U.S. Congress and the state, counties and communities where the monument is, and disenfranchising the people of the area.”

“In this case, there is very strong opposition to the monument designation. Maine Governor LePage has been a very outspoken opponent of the monument. Likewise, the state legislature has voted opposition to the designation, and the people of this part of Maine in all the small communities adjacent to the new monument have opposed its creation. Furthermore, the working people of rural Maine fully understand the nature and purpose of national monument creations — which is to prevent multi-use of the lands and to halt use of the area’s natural resources, making it a quasi-national park. And they also understand that national monument designation is the entry-drug for national parks. They know that over time the regulations and restrictions applied to the monument will become ever stricter and more onerous and that eventually the monument will be turned into a national park. Already the yards and lawns of nearby towns like Millinocket have sprouted a sea of yellow and green No Park signs. But alas the federal hegemony has already arrived. The day after the designation National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis had already sent NPS employees into Millinocket and a NPS office is due to be opened shortly in Patten, a small community even closer to the monument,” Smith continued.

“This is an especially egregious example of the radical Greens’ and Washington’s ongoing effort at ‘rural cleansing’ — locking up multiple-use lands into lands that can only be used for little more than hiking and backpacking. This will prove to be a cancer in the North Maine Woods. The vast forestlands covering much of northern Maine have been a unique and highly-successful example of private conservation. Some three million acres of productive, working, privately-owned forests have been managed as the North Maine Woods Association, which provides opportunities for the public to enjoy those same woods for a multitude of recreational purposes such as hunting, fishing, camping, canoeing, hiking, birding, and nature study — all for a small fee, which is used to provide campgrounds, fire rings, canoe launch areas, garbage disposal, and many other services. The area and its multiple uses for the public are a prime example of the compatibility of natural resource use, public recreation, and habitat and wildlife protection that often occurs on private lands, but which is almost always prohibited on government lands.”

“The radical Greens have lusted after acquisition of the North Maine Woods for decades, without success. But now they have finally succeeded in gaining a foothold on the edge of the vast forests and, like a cancer, will slowly begin to eat away at this magnificent and highly-successful example of private conservation. Before long the NPS will begin to complain about current activities within the new monument as well as activities adjacent to the monument.”

“Hunting will be banned as a threat to public safety and as being incompatible with the purpose of the NPS. Likewise, snowmobiling will eventually be phased out as a noisy destruction of the park experience and the solitude supposedly sought by visitors as well as a violation of the park’s ‘soundshed.’ And slowly the federal government will expand these regulations and controls used as a buffer zone to ever wider circles around the existing monument, making the existence of the ongoing forest products industry ever more difficult and problematic.”

“It is now far past time for the Congress to repeal an antiquated law that has long been unnecessary and is now used to lock up the American land and prevent the use of its natural resources as well as its use by the majority of people and families,” Smith concluded.

Bonner R. Cohen is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Articles by Dr. Cohen have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investor’s Business Daily, the New York Post and dozens of other publications. Dr. Cohen has testified before U.S. Senate and House committees and has spoken at conferences in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Bangladesh. Dr. Cohen is the author of two books, The Green Wave: Environmentalism and its Consequences (Washington: Capital Research Center, 2006) and Marshall, Mao und Chiang: Die amerikanischen Vermittlungsbemuehungen im chinesischen Buergerkrieg (Marshall, Mao and Chiang: The American Mediations Effort in the Chinese Civil War) (Munich: Tuduv Verlag, 1984). Dr. Cohen received his B.A. from the University of Georgia and his Ph.D., summa cum laude, from the University of Munich.

R.J. Smith is a senior fellow in environmental policy at The National Center for Public Policy Research, a position he has held since mid-2005. Once president of a local Audubon Society chapter, Mr. Smith has studied environmental policy for nearly forty years and coined the term “free market environmentalism.” Mr. Smith has served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of the Interior, a consultant to the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, and as a special assistant at the EPA. He has also served as director of environmental studies at the Cato Institute and currently serves as an adjunct analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. A popular speaker, Mr. Smith has lectured throughout the United States. He has also lectured abroad, including in Mexico, New Zealand, France, Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom, among other countries.

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