Preserving Monumental Landscapes Under the Antiquities Act
73 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2013
Date Written: September 1, 2002
This article examines the Antiquities Act, a 1906 statute that delegates authority to the President to establish national monuments on federal lands for the protection of prehistoric structures and relics. This modest statute, originally a scant one page in length, has set off a century of intermittent controversy that its drafters could not have anticipated. Although Congress probably intended that the statute merely protect archaeological ruins from looting by treasure hunters, presidents quickly began to utilize the statute to preserve large natural landscapes -- ranging from President Theodore Roosevelt's establishment of the 800,000 acre Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908, to President Clinton's reservation of about five million acres of national monuments from 1996-2001. Some outraged politicians and observers have called for the repeal of the Act and the reversal of executive monument designations. This Article contends that the controversy over the Act is illustrative of a larger phenomenon -- the philosophical view that human culture is distinct from nature. The article argues that it is time to abandon the rigid legal wall between nature and culture, and to validate explicitly almost a century of past practice preserving large natural areas of historic and scientific significance -- "monumental landscapes" -- as antiquities.
Keywords: national monuments, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Antiquities Act
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