Commentary: We encourage and support Utah’s federal delegation changing the Antiquities Act

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah House speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper speaks in opposition to the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument as republicans debate HCR11 and HCR12, resolutions asking President Donald Trump to erase the Bears Ears and alter Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.

Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed, and Gov. Gary Herbert signed, HCR 11, Concurrent Resolution Urging the President to Rescind the Bears Ears National Monument Designation and HCR 12, Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. President Donald Trump will soon do his part in supporting our legislative request.

We appreciate the collaborative partnership with Utah’s congressional delegation, their hard work on issues related to Utah’s public lands, and encourage them to continue their efforts.

We are grateful President Trump has listened to the people’s voice and the elected representatives of our state. We look forward to him following through on his promise to Utah voters by undoing much of President Obama’s Bears Ears National Monument designation.

This is great news for the residents of southern Utah who depend on the use of public lands for their livelihoods and the Native Americans who depend on access to Bears Ears lands for their material and spiritual needs.

The Trump administration has proven to be a great partner to the state of Utah. But this is only a first step.

In 1906, when the Antiquities Act was first passed, it empowered the president to declare specific sites on public land as “national monuments,” which would then be subject to greater land use restrictions.

The president, though, was never given power to restrict access to all public lands. Moreover, the Antiquities Act requires that monument designations be “confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and maintenance of the objects to be protected.”

Unfortunately, as Utahns are far too aware, presidents have been abusing this power for decades.

At the height of a presidential campaign in September, 1996, President Bill Clinton flew to Arizona and announced that almost 1.9 million acres of federal land in Utah would be subject to national monument land use restrictions. None of Utah’s federal or local leaders were consulted, or even warned, about the announcement.

Other western states have been similarly stung by Antiquities Act abuse. In 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt created the 210,950-acre Jackson Hole National Monument in Wyoming over the objections of state and local leaders. The Wyoming congressional delegation fought back, and in 1950 secured an amendment to the Antiquities Act that forbid further monument creations or expansions without explicit congressional approval.

Alaska fought a similar battle after President Jimmy Carter set aside 56 million acres for restricted use in December of 1978. It took almost two years, but by 1980 Alaska had won another significant amendment to the Antiquities Act, requiring congressional approval for any new designation in that state larger than 5,000 acres.

The people of Utah have suffered just as much, if not more, from Antiquities Act abuse as the people of Alaska and Wyoming. But President Trump cannot deliver the those protections; only Congress can. We encourage them to follow the president’s lead and to act. We are not asking for Antiquities Act repeal; preserving our antiquities continues to be a top priority. However, Utahns deservethe same protections that Alaska and Wyoming currently enjoy.

It’s time for a review of the Antiquities Act, so that any new national monument, or extension of an existing monument, would require the subsequent approval of Congress in consultation with state and local officials. Further, designations should be limited to specific antiquities and to areas no larger than what is necessary to protect them.

Nearly 70 percent of Utah is under federal management. The rights of every Utahn are under threat unless and until we, like Alaska and Wyoming, take action to protect the residents of our state from once again becoming bargaining chips in the special-interest politics of Washington.

House Speaker Greg Hughes

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, is speaker of the Utah House of Representatives.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Senate President Wayne L. Niederhauser smiles at members before banging the gavel to open the 2016 session of the Utah Legislature Monday Jan. 25.

Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, is president of the Utah Senate.