What Does ‘National Monument’ Really Mean?

In early March an internal Obama administration memo surfaced revealing plans for the federal government to seize more than 10 million acres from Montana to New Mexico for National Monument and/or Wilderness Area status. The proposal would halt job creating activities and dry up tax revenue essential for funding schools, firehouses and community centers. The leaked memo warrants concerns of a federal land grab. Further investigations and additional documentation are only raising greater concerns.

A landscape at Dinosaur National Monument in western Colorado.

National Monuments are similar to national parks; conservation practices and regulation all fall to the National Parks Service (NPS). The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the President to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be national monuments. The Antiquities Act allows for the president to reserve, “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” The intention of the act was to allow presidents to quickly protect small areas of historical or scientific interest without congress’ consent.

The document leaked in March, however, lists over 10 million acres across 11 states for National Monument consideration; 380,000 acres of BLM and private land in Colorado were included in the report. The Vermillion Basin near Craig and the Alpine Triangle near Ouray are listed in the report.

Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) recently released the entire BLM document titled “Treasured Landscapes” of which only pages were released a few months ago. The document makes clear that federal land managers wish to declare off-limits, between 130-140 million acres of land, a tract which approaches the size of Colorado and Wyoming combined.

“The biggest impact of a monument or wilderness designation to a productive multi-use tract of land is a reduction in access to members of the public,” explained Brent Boydston, Colorado Farm Bureau’s Vice President of Public Policy. “These designations sound good on the surface, but the subsequent drop in accessibility usually means a reduction in use of a particular piece of land.”

The Vermillion Basin in Northwest Colorado may be closed to multiple use activities and oil and gas development.

Although each National Monument is a little different, regulations are similar. Regulations generally restrict public accessibility. Motor vehicles are usually only allowed in specific routes and camping is limited to designated campgrounds unless special permits are obtained. Hunting is often times prohibited and fishing can be restricted. Off road vehicles generally are no longer permitted. Even hiking, backpacking and the use of saddle/pack animals is also restricted. The National Monument designation aims to preserve natural, historical and scientific areas for the enjoyment and enrichment of the public; however, oftentimes individuals with limited mobility are ruled out from enjoying these areas because of established rules and regulation.

“These kinds of designations sound good,” continued Boydston. “But the subsequent drop in tax receipts and the elimination of grazing leases can really devastate small mountain communities.”

In Colorado, the 77,000 acre Vermillion Basin is currently home to grazing and recreational activities. Surrounding areas near the Vermillion are leased to gas and oil companies and the basin itself is thought to have great energy potential as well. The Alpine Triangle near Ouray is home to 186,000 acres of Colorado backcountry. The area is a hotspot for sportsmen and off-highway vehicle enthusiasts. High populations of native trout and wildlife draw anglers and hunters from all across the state and country, making the Alpine Triangle a huge economic booster to the Ouray, Silverton and Lake City areas. National Monument designation to these areas would significantly limit public accessibility and cause a great loss to the local economies.

“Balancing the recreational, economic and environmental needs of federal land is a delicate process,” said Boydston. “One not suited to top down presidential orders that prevent state and local entities from managing the land they use on an everyday basis.”


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by barbara on August 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    I don’t believe that the Antiquities Act of 1906 is in any way applicable to what the Obama administration is trying to do. Most federal lands not covered under National Parks, wilderness areas, etc. should be kept for multi use.


  2. Posted by Janyce Harms on September 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    I am very opposed to making more parks. We need all of the land for people to make a living. there is lots of nice parks now and they are never full.


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