Printed on: April 22, 2014

Monument designation causes confusion


ST. ANTHONY -- Even with discussions about creating national monuments in the Boulder-White Clouds in central Idaho as well as in Island Park many people seem unsure about the meaning of a monument.

Straight out the dictionary, the definition of a national monument is one sentence.

It's "a historic site or national landmark maintained in the public interest by the federal government," Webster says.

The Antiquities Act

This 1906 Act gives the president the authority to proclaim monuments on federal lands that contain "historic and prehistoric structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest." The act, however, provides no procedures for this process. According to a Congressional Research Service report on national monuments, "the act was a response to concerns over theft and destruction of archaeological sites and was designed to provide an expeditious means to protect federal lands and resources."

Since 1906, starting with President Theodore Roosevelt's creation of Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming, presidents have designated about 140 national monuments totaling more than 70 million acres, the CRS report said.

At last count there were 109 national monuments. President Barack Obama created his 10th national monument last month. The number of presidentially declared monuments and of total acres within monuments have declined through the years, either because monuments were abolished by Congress or were converted by Congress to another designation.

An example of such a conversion lies near Jackson, Wyo. Portions of Grand Teton National Park were once the Jackson Hole National Monument.

Congress itself has created at total of 37 monuments, with 28 of them either still in effect or changed to another designation.

A range of monuments

Regionally, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is likely the most familiar. Created in 1924, and enlarged in 2000, it is managed by the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. It protects three lava fields along the Great Rift of Idaho and includes the world's deepest open rift cracks and other volcanic features. It's huge -- about 1,120 square miles.

Monuments can range from the size of a designated building to larger than the size of the smallest U.S. state, Rhode Island at 1,212 square miles.

One of the most recently designated monuments is the First State National Monument created in March 2013 by Obama. It is the first NPS-managed property in Delaware. It includes five small historical properties that tell the story of the early settlement of Delaware. Delaware was the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

Monument management traditionally falls to the NPS, but the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and other federal agencies also independently or jointly manage monuments.

Management is geared to the individual purpose of each monument, with no set list of rules or requirements automatically attached.

Monumental motivation

How does an area get on a list for consideration as a monument?

A push to convince the president or Congress to create a monument usually starts with the quality of the resource and whether it fits the criteria in the Antiquities Act.

"In my opinion the driving force behind national monument designation created by proclamation or legislation is first the resource (is it worthy?) and second, public and political support," said James Caswell, who was involved in vetting potential areas for monument designation under the George W. Bush


"Public support usually includes local, regional and national constituencies plus support of the federal and state political leadership," he said. "There are examples where that was not the case, but they are exceptions."

And the opposition

Controversy is no stranger to the national monument debate.

In March the U.S. House passed an amendment to the Antiquities Act that would limit presidential authority by requiring a National Environmental Protection Act review, allow each president to create only one monument per state per term and require feasibility studies. That bill is opposed by the President and is unlikely to be voted upon by the Democrat-held Senate, the Associated Press reported.

According to the CRS report Antiquities Act critics decry the lack of sufficient public comment and a lack of research prior to a presidential proclamation. Critics also have criticized the size of some monuments and their designations for "broad" purposes rather than those narrowly prescribed in the act.

Concerns about a monument designation's effect on future development also have been voiced.

"The reasons against designation are as varied and diverse as the number of people affected by the outcome," Caswell said. "In my opinion the basic reasons are fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, economic loss, loss of control, and there are many more. As I said it is probably infinite."