Making Monuments in the Ocean: George W. Bush’s Use of the Antiquities Act to Establish Large-Scale Ocean-Focused National Monuments
Between 2006 and 2009, then-President George W. Bush used his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish a series of large-scale ocean-focused national monuments. The establishment of these national monuments illustrates a remarkable turning point in the history of presidential use of the Antiquities Act. Previous national monument designations had focused on land-based elements, with the size of the area protected under these designations typically being measured in acres. George W. Bush’s national monument designations focused on ocean-based elements, including emergent and submerged lands, and were of such a vast scale that the area protected under his designations was measured in square miles.
While not the first president to use the term square miles in a proclamation text, George W. Bush’s designations were exceptional in being an order of magnitude larger than any of the preceding national monument designations. Examples include the establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument (Proclamation No. 8031, 71 Fed. Reg. 36443, June 15, 2006), which reserved an area of approximately 139,793 square miles; the establishment of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (Proclamation No. 8335, 74 Fed. Reg. 1557, January 6, 2009), which reserved an area of approximately 95,216 square miles; and the establishment of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (Proclamation No. 8336, 74 Fed. Reg. 1565, January 6, 2009), which reserved an area of approximately 86,888 square miles.
President Bush’s use of the Antiquities Act to create these large-scale reserves also marks a turning point in his administration’s position regarding the use of presidential authority to establish national monuments on federal lands. Having campaigned on a platform that condemned executive designation of national monuments and taken office with a goal of reconsidering and possibly rolling back the scope of monuments established by the Clinton Administration, Bush’s Antiquities Act proclamations instead vaulted him into the unlikely position of being the chief executive with the largest number of acres reserved by establishment under the authority of the Act. In fact, by the time he left office, President Bush had set aside more acres under the Antiquities Act than Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and all of the other former presidents combined.
Bush’s role as an ocean-focused president was enhanced by Barack Obama’s recent expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (Proclamation 9173, Federal Register Pages 58643 – 58653 [FR DOC # 2014-23319], September 25, 2014). The combined area of this Bush-Obama national monument—approximately 490,000 square miles—prompted a renewed interest in George W. Bush’s environmental actions and positioned the United States as home to the largest fully protected marine reserve in the world. More than just a numbers game, President Bush’s decision to use the Antiquities Act so expansively may be viewed by future historians as the single most important contribution to America’s environmental preservation history to come out of the George W. Bush White House.
“Making Monuments in the Ocean” text by Kurt Angersbach / Westernlabs