Ernie OToole: Why we need to protect and enhance the Antiquities Act of 1906 |

Ernie OToole: Why we need to protect and enhance the Antiquities Act of 1906

Ernie OToole/For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Chimney Rock National Monument is located in the San Juan National Forest.
File photo

Rep. Scott Tipton believes that the Antiquities Act of 1906 is obsolete.  A few weeks ago, I sent him a request to sign on as a co-sponsor to a bill, S.2354 The Antiquities Act of 2018, which was introduced into the Senate by Tom Udall (NM) and into the House of  Representatives by Michelle Grisham  (NM).

This act would strengthen the Antiquities Act of 1906 by, among other things, declaring congressional support for the 51 national monuments established by presidents of both parties since 1996, that monuments can only be reduced by acts of Congress, provides resources for managing newly established monuments in the areas of mapping, management plans, facilities for visitation, etc.  It would provide that monuments receive the protections to ensure that no new extraction claims — mining, gas, oil, coal and more — and grazing allotments be allowed, although existing claims in these areas be honored.

Not only did Rep. Tipton refuse to sign on as a co-sponsor, he stated that the Antiquities Act of 1906 is not needed today.  He said public lands are protected enough under the current management of the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies of the federal government.

However, under the current system of multiple use, the managing agencies can allow mining and drilling right next to archaeological, cultural and scenic areas that can destroy, degrade or otherwise harm these assets that are part and parcel of our national heritage.

Although, with the current philosophy on multiple use, these managing agencies generally do not practice this mingling of different uses on culturally sensitive areas. Political pressure can and does force these managing agencies to allow such potentially destructive uses on or near our national treasures to the benefit of the extraction industries.    

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Local people always have a say in these designations, and the process for designation as a national monument usually takes a lot of time and effort by locals and others petitioning the government for such designations.  The establishment of Chimney Rock National Monument outside of Pagosa Springs took more than two years of lobbying by locals, along with the support of our congressional delegation, to gain the designation in 2012 by President Barack Obama.

Indeed, the effort to gain monument status for Bears Ears National Monument began by locals in the 1930s and only gained the designation in 2016.  San Juan County, Utah, which encompasses Bears Ears, has a majority population of Native Americans who mostly supported the designation as a national monument and view the area as a sacred place.

When the Trump administration sought public input to the reduction in size of the monument, 99 percent of the 2.8 million comments received favored the original boundaries.  So much for people having a say.

Rep. Tipton also implied that many monument designations are “politically motivated” to exclude “responsible” energy development in these areas.  Actually, the reverse is true.  The extraction industries are destructive enterprises no matter how responsible they try to be.

This is precisely why the Antiquities Act of 1906 was enacted.  Who would want to see an oil derrick or an open pit mine in Colorado National Monument or Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve? Most of our iconic national parks, the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons, the Great Sand Dunes, etc. started with presidential designations as national monuments.  Basically, the Antiquities Act of 1906 is still the only means to protect our national treasures when congress fails to enact protective legislation.

We are often told by opponents of the Antiquities Act that there is overreach in the designation of monuments, that the presidential designations protect more land than is needed.  Is this really the case?  For instance, the original designation of Bears Ears National Monument encompassed 1.35 million acres containing around 100,000 archaeological and cultural areas sacred to several Native American tribes.

The Trump administration is trying to reduce its size by 85 percent, leaving about 74 percent of these archaeological and cultural sites vulnerable to exploitation.  Maybe, just maybe, the original boundaries were the minimum required for proper protections.

Studies have shown that the increase in tourism and outdoor activities due to a national monument far exceed any economic impact on local economies that the extraction industries have.  Here in Pagosa Springs, the designation of Chimney Rock as a national monument in 2012 has resulted in a 50 percent increase in visitorship resulting in adding $1.7 million and 22 additional jobs to the local economy.

The outdoor industries in Colorado alone add 229,000 direct jobs, $28 billion in consumer spending, $9.7 billion in wages and $2 billion in state and local taxes, far exceeding the economic impact of all of the extraction industries combined.  Jobs created by tourism are not as subject to the boom and bust cycles as the extraction industries.

I urge you all to stand up against this attack on public lands by contacting members of your congressional delegation and making your voice heard.

Ernie OToole is the president of the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association Board of Directors at Chimney Rock National Monument.   


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