THE DENVER POST 12-29-16 Antiquities Act

Dec 29, 2016

Antiquities Act is a “land grab” for all the right reasons

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This May 23, 2016, file photo shows Lockhart Basin, south of the Colorado River, within the boundary of the Bears Ears region in southeastern Utah. President Barack Obama designated two national monuments Wednesday at sites in Utah and Nevada that have become key flashpoints over use of public land in the U.S. West.
Francisco Kjolseth, The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
This May 23, 2016, file photo shows Lockhart Basin, south of the Colorado River, within the boundary of the Bears Ears region in southeastern Utah. President Barack Obama designated two national monuments Wednesday at sites in Utah and Nevada that have become key flashpoints over use of public land in the U.S. West.

Republicans calling President Barack Obama’s recent national monument designations a “federal land grab” are badly mistaken, unless they are praising Obama for grabbing precious, irreplaceable resources for the American people.

The president was granted the authority to designate national monuments through the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect just such natural, cultural and scientific wonders as those found at Bears Ears Buttes in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada.

Advocates of protecting Bears Ears and Gold Butte for generations to come have documented the clear public interest in protecting these unique places from development.

That Congress has utterly failed to do the right thing on behalf of communities, including the Native American community, clamoring for these places to be preserved is certainly not the president’s fault, nor is Obama’s subsequent intervention a sign that the Antiquities Act has spiraled out of control.

We hope that Republicans who have won a clear mandate to lead don’t use their power to undo the good that Obama has done when it comes to these and other national monuments.

It was 1911 when President William Howard Taft used the Antiquities Act to protect the Colorado National Monument. The Republican set aside the 20,500 acres towering above Grand Junction to protect its “extraordinary examples of weathering and erosion.”

That “land grab” was an incredible blessing to the Grand Valley. Not without its controversy, the park has provided a permanent economic driver, albeit a small one, with about 588,000 visitors a year.

Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act in Colorado we think will also stand the test of time.

Earlier this year Obama set aside Browns Canyon in the Arkansas River Valley, preserving a headwaters that is not only used for recreation but that is a valuable water source.

At the time, Rep. Doug Lamborn, the Colorado Springs Republican, railed against the executive order as the kind of “top-down, big government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens in the Browns Canyon region.”

But even Lamborn’s predecessor, former Republican Rep. Joel Hefley, defended Udall’s efforts and the possibility of a presidential order.

“I am as confident now as I was nearly a decade ago that what emerges from the community-driven process will be a public space that enhances Colorado and our way of life — and not just another federal designation,” Hefley wrote in a guest commentary in The Denver Post.

And Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, stood behind Obama’s decision to designate Chimney Rock National Monument in 2012 after Congress failed to enact his bill that would protect the place in southwest Colorado that is steeped in Pueblo Indian history.

We supported both of those projects unequivocally.

It’s time for President-elect Donald Trump and Congress to recognize when a good thing has been done by their opponent, even over their objections, and to move forward.

Some places are too special not to preserve for generations to come, and thankfully in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt had the foresight to recognize that it was the president’s duty to protect just such lands from the crush of progress that would one day jeopardize them.

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