The Wrong Side of History: House Attacks on Antiquities Act Continue

The shameless onslaught of the Great Outdoors Giveaway continued this morning in the House of Representatives when six bills all designed to undermine the Antiquities Act received testimony before the Public Lands Subcommittee.

One of them, Rep. Rob Bishop’s so-called “Utah Lands Sovereignty Act,” would prevent any future president from designating national monuments in the state, eliminating one of the finest scientific and conservation legacies President Teddy Roosevelt left us: the ability to protect from pothunters, vandals, exploitative industry and indiscriminate off-road vehicle users the rich cultural inheritance left to us by the Ancestral Puebloans and the early pioneers; the ability to engage in scientific discovery on our public lands; and the ability to pass that heritage to our children.

But there’s one more benefit to national monuments that frequently gets overlooked by Rep. Bishop and his cohorts: they are a boon to the communities that surround them. Indeed, far from the “unnecessary hardships” Bishop claimed resulted from the 1996 designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the economies of nearby communities are actually thriving in the years since.

According to the non-profit, non-partisan testimony of Ray Rasker of Headwaters Economics, from 1996-2008 in Garfield and Kane Counties, the two counties with direct access to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument:

  • Population grew by 8 percent
  • Jobs grew by 38 percent
  • Real personal income grew by 40 percent
  • Per capita income grew by 30 percent

Rasker said areas with protected lands attract businesses, workers and retirees because of their quality of life, and tourism follows as well. While he could not state a direct cause and effect between monument designation and economic growth, there was one thing that was definite.

”In no case did we find that the creation of a national monument led to an economic downturn,” Rasker said, after reviewing 17 national monuments, all greater than 10,000 acres, all designated after 1982.

The Antiquities Act has been used time and again since 1906—128 times by 15 presidents of both parties—to preserve treasures unique to the American story. Arches, Bryce and Zion were all national monuments before they became national parks. The Grand Staircase-Escalante and Dinosaur National Monuments each propelled scientific discovery in paleontology, yielding countless new species of dinosaurs and integral clues to the past. All of these provide untold scenic and recreational values to visitors, who flock from all over the country and the world to see them.

Indeed, on its own tourism website, Kane County touts the fact it offers “access to more national monuments and parks than any other place,” and says the “Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a dramatic, multi-hued landscape that is rich in natural and human history.”

Fortunately, our own recent history has included the vision to protect those places with the Antiquities Act, and an attempt to defund the Act this spring was swatted down by a bipartisan force in the House of Representatives that included 213 Democrats and 34 Republicans. We hope this sensible protection of one of our nation’s best tools will continue, so please contact your representatives to ask them to stop the attack on national monuments.

As Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona put it in the hearing, those who would do so “are on the wrong side of history.” And, as it turns out, the wrong side of economics.