Dear Los Angeles Times


Members of Congress watch as President Obama signs San Gabriel Mountains proclamation

Dear Los Angeles Times,

In regards to your October 10, 2014, article “Critics protest Obama’s San Gabriel Mountains National Monument” by Louis Sahagun and Kate Mather, and specifically the statement therein: “The designation marks the 13th time that Obama has used his executive powers to establish or expand a national monument without congressional approval.”

The President is always acting with congressional approval when exercising his authority under the Antiquities Act. The text of the Antiquities Act shows both the source and discretionary power of this authority:

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled . . .

That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with [the] proper care and management of the objects to be protected. . . .”

“Approved, June 8, 1906”

Furthermore, each national monument proclamation from President Obama includes an explicit statement expressing this congressional authority:

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 2 of the Antiquities Act, hereby proclaim the objects identified above that are situated upon lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be. . . .”

National monument proclamations from presidents Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush also include a statement such as this one. Congress has amended the Antiquities Act once and, as the nation’s lawmakers, may do so again in the future. Consideration of the Act’s 108-year history, however, suggests that presidential use of the Antiquities Act is clearly occurring with the approval of Congress.

[Letter to the editor, submitted October 11, 2014, with the following response:

“Thank you! Your letter has been successfully submitted.”]


Image credit and sources:

Image from Representative Judy Chu, October 10, 2014. For original image and associated text, please click here.

Los Angeles Times article source:

From Sections 1-4 of the American Antiquities Act of 1906 (34 Stat. 225, 16 U.S.C. 431-433)

Antiquities Act text source:

Antiquities Act as amended:

The  Obama national monument proclamation text source used in this example is from his 2014 establishment of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument:

Also see this letter from Congress to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack, in which Members of Congress request “protection of existing recreational opportunities,” along with the “establishment of [a] Public Advisory Council,” as well as other specific elements addressing local, regional, tribal, and other stakeholder values,  should these public lands become a national monument.

Dear Los Angeles Times


Designation of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument

“Remarks by the President at Designation of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument”

Views of the San Gabriel Mountains from 2013 and 2014

“And 150 years ago, President Lincoln signed a law that forever changed the way we conserve our natural heritage. It might have seemed like an odd thing to do at the time. Civil war raged between North and South; the fate of our union hung in the balance. Lincoln himself had never even been to California. For a good part of his life, his home state of Illinois was considered the West.

But descriptions and drawings, and even some early photographs of the Yosemite Valley, had made their way back East — the cathedral peaks, the waterfalls, the giant sequoias. So too had stories about encroaching development that threatened the area. So President Lincoln decided to help protect a place he had never visited — for a nation he might not be able to save and for a future he would never live to see. And that place is at the heart of what now is Yosemite National Park.

So it’s fitting that we meet here in California, because this was the state that inspired Lincoln’s actions, and made possible all that followed, including this moment. Today, I’m using my executive authority to designate the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument. (Applause.)”


These remarks are from the White House, Office of the Press Secretary, October 10, 2014.

For the full text of President Obama’s remarks on the designation of the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument, please click here.

For the White House statement and release (including area map) titled “President Obama Designates San Gabriel Mountains National Monument,” please click here.

Image credits (two images above): US Forest Service Air Monitoring Program

For more information about the US Forest Service Air Monitoring Program, please click here.

Image archiving: Westernlabs

Current and archived images from US Forest Service and National Park Service locations are available here  Westernlabs  @WesternlabsUS  and here  Kurt Angersbach  @theparktoday

Designation of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument


“Building an environmental legacy with a simple signature”


President George W. Bush is receiving a lot of press these days. The coverage is positive, even laudatory, in acknowledging Mr. Bush’s role in using the Antiquities Act to establish large-scale ocean-focused national monuments during his final years in office.

Three themes appear in most of these media reports: One theme addresses the scale of the new monuments, one emphasizes the legacy-building aspects of presidential use of the Antiquities Act, and the third theme focuses on the bipartisan history of monument establishment over the past 108 years. Here are two examples:

From the New York Times, as seen October 1, 2014

“Mr. Obama’s Pacific Monument”

“It’s safe to assume that most presidents have big ambitions and visions of lasting Rooseveltian achievement. Though, in recent history, the millstones of Washington’s pettiness and partisanship usually grind such dreams to dust. There are exceptions, which happen when presidents discover the Antiquities Act.

This is the law, used by Theodore Roosevelt and many successors, by which the executive can permanently set aside public lands from exploitation, building an environmental legacy with a simple signature and without Congress’s consent. This is how President Obama last week, in addition to everything else on his plate, created the largest marine preserve in the world.”

So far, this NYT piece mentions Roosevelt (twice) but the final sentence brings the editorial around to George W. Bush.

“Republicans will complain, but they should remember that it was President George W. Bush who created the monument. Mr. Obama only expanded it. Building an environmental legacy is an idea with bipartisan appeal.”

Certainly there are many who will disagree, but this author is happy to go on record as saying that it has to be considered a good day when the New York Times’s Editorial Board name checks GWB in conjunction with Theodore Roosevelt, and throws in positive references to “bipartisan appeal” and “environmental legacy” to boot.

The next example, from The Wilderness Society (~September 29, 2014) looks even better for former President George W. Bush. In this piece, Roosevelt appears again (once), but Bush is referenced four times. Here, too, the themes of scale, legacy building, and bipartisanship are present throughout the article. This quote, from “Newly-expanded Pacific Ocean monument builds on bipartisan legacy,” is currently the lead story on The Wilderness Society’s web site:

“In protecting a large ocean monument, President Obama is in good (and bipartisan) historic company. President Bush originally protected the monument in 2009 along with two other marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean. Earlier, in 2006, President Bush had protected the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (originally called the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument). When he left office, Bush had set aside more square miles of ocean for protection than any political leader in U.S. history. The Antiquities Act has been used by presidents of both parties to preserve sites of unique natural and cultural value since President Theodore Roosevelt signed it into law in 1906.”

The Wilderness Society also includes a map showing the scale of the expanded monuments. Less immediately eye-catching than the graphic in the New York Times piece, this map works when the viewer locates the linear scale in the lower right corner and realizes that the circles representing the expanded monument boundaries are measured in hundreds of miles.


Image credit, quote sources, and links to full-text versions of the quoted material follow:

Image credit (above):  The New York Times Company 2014. Image title (via The New York Times Company):  “Bigger Than Texas.”

Source for title and quoted material in Example 1 is the The New York Times Company.

For the full text of the New York Times piece, please click here.

Source for quoted material in Example 2 is The Wilderness Society.

For the full text of The Wilderness Society piece, please click here.


“Building an Environmental Legacy with a Simple Signature”


“Congress should…bar further national marine monument proclamations in Hawaii…and the US Pacific Remote Islands.”

Observations regarding the process and proclamation of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument Expansion follow a familiar path.

Consider these two views of an August 2014 “Town Hall Meeting” in Honolulu, hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as an example.

“More people testified in support of the proposed expansion than in opposition. All of the testimony was recorded and will be summarized and submitted to NOAA officials and, presumably, President Obama.”

“PRIMNM Town Hall Listening Session: Strong Opposition to Proposed Monument Expansion”

Same meeting. Different perspectives.

One of the most interesting reactions to the President’s proclamation comes from Kitty Simonds, Executive Director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. Here is the full text of Ms. Simonds’ quote:

“Congress has curtailed further use of Presidential monument proclamation authority in Alaska and Wyoming, and Congress should similarly bar further national marine monument proclamations in Hawaii and the US territories of American Samoa, CNMI, Guam and the US Pacific Remote Islands.”

This rhetoric may sound familiar. For nearly a decade, press releases and bills from legislators in several western states have included nearly identical language. Readers who are unfamiliar with the history of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council may find this 2009 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office illuminating.

“Fisheries Management: Alleged Misconduct of Members and Staff of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council,” United States Government Accountability Office, released June 19, 2009.

One final thought from the Executive Director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council closes this post:

“We now look to see how this declaration will be achieved in practice, beyond paper and politics….”

Sources and additional text for quotes and comments:

USFWS notice of the town hall meeting

In support of the proposed monument expansion

Opposition to the proposed monument expansion

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council Press Release


Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument Expansion

“These agreements . . . should not be held up as a model of how the Federal government should do business.”

Yesterday, the Senate National Parks Subcommittee hearing included discussion of the October 2013 federal government shutdown and its effect on parks, monuments, and certain other public lands.  S. 1750, the “Public Access to Public Land Guarantee Act,” was addressed during this hearing.

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ), and co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (UT), Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), and Sen. John McCain (AZ), S. 1750 would “authorize the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into agreements with States and political subdivisions of States providing for the continued operation, in whole or in part, of public land, units of the National Park System, units of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and units of the National Forest System in the State during any period in which the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture is unable to maintain normal level of operations at the units due to a lapse in appropriations, and for other purposes.”

Christina Goldfuss, Deputy Director, Congressional and External Relations, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, provided the Senate Subcommittee members with this key observation:

“Enacting a law to try to avoid the impact of a future shutdown on specified activities is not a responsible alternative to simply making the political commitment to avoid a shutdown in the future….”

Additional comments from Christina Goldfuss regarding S. 1750 follow:

“The Department [of the Interior] strongly opposes S. 1750. We have a great deal of sympathy for the businesses and communities that experienced a disruption of activity and loss of revenue during last fall’s government shutdown and that stand to lose more if there is another funding lapse in the future. However, we disagree generally with the idea of enacting laws to try to lessen the impact of a future government shutdown for a few select governmental activities rather than protecting all such activities by avoiding a lapse in appropriations. We also believe that this legislation specifically, with its mandate to enter into agreements to reopen public lands at the request of a state, would be very difficult to execute. Furthermore, we are concerned that agreements to have states provide funding for activities that are inherently Federal in nature, even for a short period of time, would undermine the longstanding framework established by Congress for the management of Federal lands under the stewardship of the Department.”

“The desire to avoid the kind of disappointment to the public and disruption of economic activity that results from a lapse in Federal appropriations is understandable. When the partial government shutdown occurred from October 1 through October 16, 2013, a lot of attention was focused on effects of closures of national parks, national wildlife refuges, public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and national forests – all places that are highly valued by the public for their recreational offerings and that serve as economic engines for the communities in which they are located.”

“These agreements did help a select number of businesses and communities. However, they should not be held up as a model of how the Federal government should do business. The national parks that were opened during the shutdown were fortunate to be located in states that had the resources and political will to fund them. The National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which all seek to treat the land units under their stewardship equitably, have grave concerns about enshrining in law a process that favors units located in states willing to donate funds to operate them over those located in other states.”

“The 2013 Federal government shutdown had terrible impacts for American citizens, businesses, communities, states, and the economy as a whole. These impacts are summarized in the report released by the Office of Management and Budget entitled ‘Impacts and Costs of the October 2013 Federal Government Shutdown’ (November 2013). The report makes clear that the economic effects and disruption to lives and activities from the shutdown were felt far and wide. Enacting a law to try to avoid the impact of a future shutdown on specified activities is not a responsible alternative to simply making the political commitment to avoid a shutdown in the future by providing appropriations for all the vital functions the Federal government performs.”

The link to this Senate National Parks Subcommittee hearing is here.

Full text of the comments of Christina Goldfuss is available here.

See Thomas for more regarding S. 1750.


“This is a big deal!”

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

“This is a big deal!”

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument Decision.

From George W. Bush’s “Remarks on the Establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument,” June 15, 2006.

“The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are a beautiful and special place. The 10 islands and atolls stretch over 1,400 miles. That’s the distance from Chicago to Miami. In the tropical waters surrounding the archipelago, there are more than 4,500 square miles of coral reef habitat thriving under the surface. Think about that—4,500 square miles of coral reef.

These undersea forests and mountain ranges comprise the largest remote reef system in the world. And this region holds the largest and healthiest untouched coral reef system in the United States. And we’re going to preserve it.

I think you’re beginning to get a feel for why I made the decision I made. The national monument we’re establishing today covers nearly 140,000 square miles. To put this area in context, this national monument is more than 100 times larger than Yosemite National Park, larger than 46 of our 50 States, and more than 7 times larger than all our national marine sanctuaries combined. This is a big deal.”

The name of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument (Proclamation No. 8031, 71 Fed. Reg. 36443, June 15, 2006) was changed to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument via Proclamation No. 8112 (72 Fed. Reg. 10031, Feb. 28, 2007).

Map courtesy State of Hawaii, Division of Aquatic Resources. Additional information from the State of Hawaii can be found here.

Full text of the “Remarks on the Establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument” can be found here. Quoted material comes from page 1150 of this document.


“Congress was not enthusiastic. . . .”

John Fletcher Lacey

John Fletcher Lacey

“Congress was not enthusiastic. . . .”

Antiquities Act Bills and Discussion, circa 1900-1906, from Raymond Harris Thompson

“Hewett tried to avoid language anywhere in the bill that might trigger debate over details, such as how much land would be withdrawn, by limiting the amount of land to ‘the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management’ of the monument.”

“Lacey had already warned Interior Secretary Hitchcock when he submitted Hermann’s draft that the Congress was not enthusiastic about the thought of massive land withdrawals. . . . Subsequent debate, comment, and action (or lack thereof) seemed to indicate that the Congress had not moved away from that position.” (p. 300)

“There was also the problem that the Congress had displayed little enthusiasm for establishing national parks. . . .” (p. 303)

Mentioned in quotes:

Edgar Lee Hewett (Professor, Archaeologist, Administrator, Westerner)

John Fletcher Lacey (Congressman, Republican, Major (Union Army), Attorney; See also the “Lacey Act of 1900”)

Ethan Allen Hitchcock (Secretary of the Interior from 1898 to 1907)

Binger Hermann (Commissioner of the General Land Office from 1897 to 1903)

All quoted material above is from the Journal of the Southwest (Volume 42, Number 2, Summer 2000) “A Special Issue: The Antiquities Act of 1906” “An Old and Reliable Authority: An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities” by Raymond Harris Thompson and edited by Joseph Carleton Wilder. Full text and more can be found here at An Old and Reliable Authority.

Thanks to the Department of Commerce / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center for hosting this publication.

Image credit: “John F. Lacey” Copyright 2014 Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation