Time to Repeal the Antiquities Act of 1906, by R.J. Smith

With a stroke of his infamous pen, President Barack Obama celebrated the Centennial of the National Park Service (NPS) by using an antiquated federal law to designate 87,563 acres (137 square miles) of north central Maine forestland as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

This designation turns formerly private lands into lands of the U.S. Department of Interior under NPS management. Wealthy environmentalist Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt’s Bees, donated the land to the NPS with the understanding that it would then be designated as a national monument.

Arguably the most pernicious aspect of this expansion of the federal estate was the means by which it was accomplished: through the Antiquities Act of 1906.

When the Act was passed, much of the U.S. was thinly-populated wildlands. It was nearly impossible to police those vast expanses to prevent the theft of items from ancient Indian archeological sites or significant fossil deposits or petrified wood. The Act was adopted to protect these treasures by authorizing the president to designate the smallest area necessary surrounding them as national monuments.

The Antiquities Act is Now Being Misused by Both Parties

But, in recent decades, presidents from both parties have misused the Act by exploiting it to lock up large swathes of land to prevent the use of its natural resources. With the unilateral stroke of a pen, presidents are now designating any amount of the federal estate they choose as national monuments, circumventing Congress and the states and communities where the monument may be located, disenfranchising the people of the area.

Maine Opposes Obama’s Action

Maine’s Governor LePage has been an outspoken opponent of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the state legislature voted in opposition to the designation, and the people in the small communities adjacent to the new monument opposed its creation.

The working people of rural Maine fully understand that the purpose of national monument designations is to prevent multiple uses of land and to halt use of natural resources, creating quasi-national parks. They also understand that national monument designation is the entry-drug for national parks. Over time, the regulations applied to the monument will become increasingly strict. Eventually the monument will be turned into a national park.

Already the yards of nearby towns, such as Millinocket, have sprouted a sea of “No Park” signs. But alas, the federal hegemony has already arrived. The day after the designation, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis sent employees into Millinocket and an NPS office will be opened shortly in nearby Patten.

Radical Greens Limit the Use of Land

This is an especially egregious example of the ongoing effort by radical Greens and their Washington D.C. allies at “rural cleansing.” The goal is to lock up multiple-use lands into lands that can be used for little more than hiking and backpacking.

Land management by ideology 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 3.5 million acres of productive, privately-owned forests have been managed as the North Maine Woods, Inc. The public has enjoyed those 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 and other services.

The area has been 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 land.

The radical Greens lusted after acquisition of the North Maine Woods for decades without success. Now they have succeeded in gaining a foothold on the edge of the vast forests and, like a cancer, they will slowly begin to eat away at this magnificent example of private conservation and sustainable use. 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 NPS. Snowmobiling will 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 regulations and controls as a buffer zone in ever-wider circles around the existing monument, making the existence of the ongoing forest products industry ever more difficult.

Forests Will Suffer if the Antiquities Act is Not Repealed

Most tragically, the government’s policy of “natural regulation” — no management of the forests — will end the way the federal government’s mismanagement of the national forests across the West has ended. The government’s intentional failure to harvest trees or reduce the thickets of new undergrowth will lead to infestations of disease and insects and then to catastrophic wildfires.

Current Law is Undemocratic, Anti-Environment and Anti-Jobs

It is far past time for Congress to repeal the Antiquities Act of 1906. The circumstances under which it was adopted have long since ended, making use of the Act for its original purpose unnecessary.

Now the Act is being used to lock up vast areas, precluding all environmental management, and eliminating traditional multiple uses such as hunting, snowmobiling and off-road vehicles. Lost also are much-needed rural jobs and taxes for local communities to provide basic public services.

The Antiquities Act allows presidents to seize control of large portions of land without the approval of Congress or the states and localities in which the land is located.

Even those who support locking up the land ought to agree that the public should have a say in how it is done — that no president, of either political party, should be answerable to no one.

Indeed, it is highly suspicious that the radical Greens and their supporters oppose letting Congress, states and localities have a say. It’s a confession that the policies they advocate haven’t earned public support, and won’t.

R.J. Smith is a senior fellow in environmental policy at The National Center for Public Policy Research.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.