In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5, Babbitt, who served as Interior secretary under President Bill Clinton, said the current administration should use the Antiquities Act and other powers to protect public land from development.
But Wayne Allard, a former U.S. representative and U.S. senator from Colorado who now serves as the AMA vice president for government relations, said such actions would bypass the people’s representatives in Congress. He called the Babbitt comments disappointing.
“The administration shouldn’t unilaterally decide how public land should be managed,” Allard said. “Those decisions need to be made in Congress, with input from citizens and officials in the affected communities.”
The Antiquities Act of 1906 allows the president to declare national monuments. The federal law was initially passed to protect native American artifacts such as pottery from being taken from small tracts of federal land in the West. That is, Congress determined that national monument designations were to be confined to very small areas.
But presidents haven’t interpreted the law to apply to small areas. Clinton created an uproar in 1996 when he designated 1.9 million acres in southern Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
President George Bush used the Antiquities Act to circumvent Congress and set aside the future use of thousands of square miles of the Pacific Ocean without public debate. In 2006, he designated 140,000 square miles of ocean and 10 islands and coral atolls in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a U.S. national monument.
National monuments don’t automatically ban off-highway vehicle use but a national monument designation makes it much easier to ban their use without input from the public, elected representatives and affected communities.