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Update on Land Sovereignty and National Monument Acts (1-18-01)

The power of the president to designate and manage federal lands has come under intense scrutiny from Congress in recent years, especially after President Clinton's 1996 designation of the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah without congressional notification (for more on that, see the AGI Update on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument).  Congressional reaction to the president's use of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate national monuments has included several bills to limit the presidential power under the Act -- currently several bills are in the midst of the legislative process.  Along with these bills, Congress has introduced several bills to require congressional approval over US participation in United Nations programs, such as the Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites programs and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.  The 106th Congress focused primarily on the presidential power under the Antiquities Act (the formation of national monuments) and Clinton's Lands Legacy Initiative.  Vice President-elect Dick Cheney has stated that he plans to review the public involvment process that took place for national monument designations throughout the Clinton administration.

Most Recent Action

 President Clinton designated seven new national monuments as well as expanding an existing monument on January 17, 2001, at the recommendation of Interior Secratary Bruce Babbit.  The seven new monuments are Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Pompey's Pillar National MonumentCarrizo Plain National Monument, Sonoran Desert National Monument, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, Minidoka Internment National Monument, and U.S. Virgin Island Coral Reef National MonumentBuck Island Reef National Monument was expanded by 18,135 acres.  More information and descriptions of the new monuments can be found on the Department of the Interior website and on the current White House website. The Sonoran Desert National Monument is in south-central Arizona and includes approximately 486,149 acres of federal land to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is in north-central New Mexico and includes 4,148 acres of federal land to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The Minidoka Internment National Monument is located in south-central Idaho and consists of about 73 acres of federal land currently managed by the Bureau of Reclamation.

On December 22, 2000, Interior Secretary Babbitt made five national monument recommendations to President Clinton. The proposals included four new sites for national monument designation and one monument expansion. Upper Missouri River Breaks proposed national monument, is located along 149 miles of the Upper Missouri River in central Montana, and covers 377,300 acres of federal land. Pompeys Pillar, another proposed site located in central Montana, consists of 51 acres of sandstone formations along the Yellowstone River.  One of the outcrops in this area contains the initials of William Clark with a date, proving that the famous  Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806) passed there. Located in the San Joaquin Valley of California, Carrizo Plain  proposed national monument is bisected by the San Andreas Fault and covers 204,100 acres of undeveloped land. During the 106th Congress, Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) proposed legislation regarding the Carrizo Plain location (H.R.1751), but the bill did not move out of the House. The three above-mentioned monument proposals would be managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  Babbitt's fourth national monument recommendation was the U.S. Virgin Islands Coral Reef consisting of 12,700 acres of submerged coral reef habitat off of St. John  that would be managed by the National Park Service.  This proposal further protects the scientific objects included in the Virgin Islands National Park. The final recommendation was an expansion of the Buck Island National Monument to incorporate 18,135 more acres off of St. Croix, also to be managed by the National Park service.  Environmentalists support Babbitt's proposals and have recommended several other sites for national monument status.  Recreation groups have expressed disappointment with the proposals describing them as "a last minute lock-out of federal lands".

Previous Action in the 106th Congress

American Land Sovereignty Protection Act
Representative Don Young (R-AK) introduced H.R. 883, the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act, on March 1, 1999.  The bill would amend the National Historic Preservation Act Amendments of 1980 to prevent the Secretary of the Interior and any other federal official from "nominating, classifying, or designating any Federal land located within the United States for a special or restricted use under any international agreement for conserving, preserving, or protecting the terrestrial or marine environment, flora, or fauna (with specified exceptions) unless specifically authorized by law, but authorizes the Secretary to submit proposals for authorizing legislation."  The bill was referred to the House Committee on Resources, which he chairs.  A full committee hearing was held on March 18, 1999.  On May 3, 1999, the Committee reported favorably on the bill (H. Rpt. 106-142), and the bill was debated on the House floor on May 20th where it was passed by voice vote and was sent to the Senate.  An amendment from Rep. Bruce Vento (D-MN) was added by a roll call vote of 262-158, requiring the same regulations be applied to international commercial activity in the United States (foreign mining companies that do not currently have to pay royalties was offered as an example by Representative Nick Joe Rahall, D-WV).  After passing the House in a voice vote, the bill was sent to the Senate where is was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has been sitting on it since the end of May 1999.  A companion bill, S. 510, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and has been referred to the Senate Subcommittee on Forests and Public Lands.  The Subcommittee held a hearing on May 26, 1999, but no further action has occurred since then.

National Monuments
Several bills dealing with the designation of national monuments by the president under the Antiquities Act of 1906 have been introduce during the 106th Congress.  One bill that has seen a fair amount of action is H.R. 1487, a bill introduced by Rep. James Hansen (R-UT) on April 20, 1999, that amends the Antiquities Act to require the President to "(1) solicit public participation and comment in the designation's development; (2) consult with the Governor and congressional delegation of the State or territory in which the lands in question are located, to the extent practicable, at least 60 days before such a designation; and (3) consider any information made available in the development of existing plans and programs for the management of such lands, including public comments."  H.R. 1487, the National Monument NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) Compliance Act, was referred to the House Committee on Resources.  On May 18, 1999, the National Parks and Public Land Subcommittee held a hearing on H.R. 1487.  Members' opening statements reflected their anger over the president's declaration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Mr. Leshy, solicitor for the Department of the Interior, was scheduled to testify but was dismissed as he had not turned in his testimony the specified 48 hours in advance of the hearing.  Chairman Hansen postponed Mr. Leshy's testimony until a June 17, 1999  hearing, at which Leshy defended the Department of the Interior's actions regarding the actions in Utah and spoke out against the new proposed legislation.  Summaries of both hearings are available on the AGI Summary of National Monument Hearings website.

The National Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee passed H.R. 1487 in a 10-8 vote to be considered by the Full Committee.  On June 30, 1999, the House Resources Committee marked up H.R. 1487 and reported (H. Rpt. 106-252) favorably on the bill that was amended.  A compromise was reached between Hansen and Bruce Vento (D-MN) in the form of an amendment offered by Vento.  The Vento amendment requires consultation with the governor and delegation of states affected by proposed national monument declarations "to the extent practical, " as well as stipulating that it is the Secretary of the Interior, not the President, that is subject to NEPA compliance.  Both the Vento amendment and the bill passed the committee by voice vote.  The compromise bill later passed the House by a nearly unanimous vote of 408-2.  Department of the Interior solicitor John Leshy stated in a June 17th hearing before the National Parks Subcommittee that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt would recommend a veto of the bill to the President.  A summary of the hearing can be found on the AGI website at the AGI Summary of National Monument Hearings website.

Once H.R. 1487 passed the House it was sent to the Senate and referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  In October 1999, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed it out of committee favorably, but did not release their report (S. Rpt. 106-250) until March 28, 2000.  Opposition came from the conservative end, with some senators hoping to pass Sen. Larry Craig's (R-ID) bill, S. 729 instead -- S. 729 would require Congress' approval of national monument designations and instruct the land management agencies to gather information on the surface and subsurface resources present at the proposed site, identify land ownership in the area, and conduct hearings on the potential designation and prepare environmental studies in accordance with NEPA.  H.R. 1487 has been placed on the Senate legislative calendar for floor debate.

A National Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee hearing held on March 16, 2000 focused on two new bills that would create a new National Monument and a new National Conservation Area in western states. H.R. 3676, introduced by Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA), would create the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument in California.  H.R. 2941, sponsored by Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), would establish the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in Arizona.  Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt represented the Clinton Administration and noted that while he was in general support of both bills, there were some problems that would have to be worked out before they were fully endorsed by the administration.  During the hearing, subcommittee Chairman Jim Hansen (R-UT), an avid opponent of the creation of National Monuments in the western United States, warned Babbitt that any action by the Administration to create further monuments might lead to opposition from the Western Caucus in the form of votes against the China trade agreement.

On June 7, 2000,  the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed S. 729, the National Monument Public Participation Act to amend the Antiquities Act of 1906.  Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) proposed this bill to put a check on the president's authority by requiring: (1) Congress to act within two years to ratify monuments after receipt of recommendations on designations; and (2) instruct land management agencies to "gather information on the surface and subsurface resources present at the proposed site, identify land ownership in the area, and conduct hearings on the potential designation and prepare environmental studies in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act."  A similar bill, H.R. 1487, passed the same committee by a 12-8 vote on October 20, 1999 following a veto-proof majority 408-2 vote in the House a month earlier.
H.R. 1487, sponsored by House Parks Subcommittee Chairman Jim Hansen (R-UT), is considered to be a compromise and a "more watered down" House version of S. 729 by various GOP members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  (7/3/00)

Administrative Actions
President Clinton signed a proclamation on January 11, 2000 expanding the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument (AZ) and establishing three other national monuments in a ceremony in Arizona.  On December 14th, President Clinton announced plans to create these new national monuments in Arizona and California and to expand one more in California. The sites, recommended by Interior Secretary Babbitt, were designated under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, authority that Congress is currently seeking to overturn. In a separate action announced the same day, President Clinton announced that he was submitting to Congress a list of 18 proposed sites that he hopes to purchase and protect through the Department of the Interior's Land Legacy program -- a section of his Lands Legacy Initiative. During the recent negotiations over spending bills for fiscal year 2000, the President successfully campaigned for a 42 percent increase in this program

The new national monuments include:

In a press conference on December 14, 1999, Secretary Babbitt stated that the creation of these monuments would protect them from being overrun by urban sprawl and destroyed by mining. Some of the areas also contain numerous archaeological sites. All four areas are currently being managed by the Bureau of Land Management. A designation as a National Monument would increase restrictions on recreation and commercial use of the land.

Congressional Republicans have strongly opposed the designation of these areas and what many members of Congress see as presidential abuse of the authority under the Act. For now, there is little that they can do while the President has the use of the Antiquities Act of 1906. This law gives the President the power to, through executive order, set aside federal land that has scientific, archaeological, or historical value.  Several bills contesting the legitimacy of the Clinton Administration's use of this law have been introduced during this Congress.

Alongside the national monument proposals discussed above, Clinton unveiled plans to purchase 18 privately or state owned sites with funding from the Preserving America's Land Legacy program. A high priority of the administration, this program received $652 million in the last-minute omnibus fiscal year (FY) 2000 appropriations bill, a 42 percent increase over the previous year. Although Congress allocated most of that money for specific purchases, such as the Baca Ranch in New Mexico (more information available at the AGI Update on the Federal Acquisition of the Valles Caldera website), a $35 million fund was included to purchase additional sites.

On April 15, 2000, President Clinton, under the advisement of Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, signed an executive order creating the Giant Sequoia National Monument on 328,000 acres in Sequoia National Forest in California.  According to Greenwire, "[t]he designation will phase out existing logging rights during the next 30 months and ban new mining claims in 34 groves of the ancient trees. The designation will allow grazing in the area and continued recreational access."  In hopes to delay the establishment of the monument, three California Representatives -- George Radanovich (R-19th), Calvin Dooley (D-20th), and William Thomas (R-21st) -- introduced H.R. 4021, a bill that requires completion of an 18-month study on how best to conserve the trees before a national monument is established.  This bill did not make it through the packed congressional schedule before the Spring Recess.  Clinton, in a press release regarding the Giant Sequoia National Monument, also used the announcement to push Congress to support his Lands Legacy Initiative.

In late May, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt provided a list of four sites, currently managed under the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Energy, to President Clinton to be considered as national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906.  The four sites under consideration include: the Ironwood Forest in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, AZ; the Canyons of the Ancients near the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado; the Cascade-Siskiyou in south central Oregon including Soda Mountain; and Hanford Reach in southeast Washington along the Columbia River.  Clinton is expected to review the recommendations and decide in a few weeks on these sites.  Clinton's use of the presidential power under the 1906 Act has been vocally opposed in Congress, which had introduced several bills to limit the President's powers to establish national monuments.  (6/2/00)

Disturbed by this recent flurry of new national monument declarations, some senators are concerned that President Clinton will declare ANWR a national monument before he leaves office, permanently closing  the area to oil drilling.  When Oil Daily reported June 15th that the White House has, in fact, "prepared the paperwork for designating the coastal plain of ANWR as a national monument, and it is just a matter of timing," the Alaskan congressional delegation was incensed.  Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) waved a copy of the report in front of Energy Undersecretary Ernest J. Moniz at a hearing that same day while Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) responded, "If they do this, it would be the last straw.  I'd hope this would be struck down by the courts."  Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's promise not to support such a measure did little to assuage the senators' fears.

On June 9th, President Clinton, under the advisement of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit, designated four new national monuments encompassing nearly 550,000 acres of land.  The four sites are: the Ironwood Forest in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, AZ; the Canyons of the Ancients near the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado; the Cascade-Siskiyou in south central Oregon including Soda Mountain; and Hanford Reach in southeast Washington along the Columbia River.  The first three sites fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management and the fourth site lies within the Department of Energy's Hanford Nuclear Reservation.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will manage the Hanford lands, but the proclamation will not affect the Department of Energy's responsibility to clean up Hanford Nuclear Reservation.  This designation by the president has added more fuel to the fire of those in Congress, particularly western Republicans, including Rep. James V. Hansen (R-UT), who stated that Clinton overstepped his authority "by declaring such large swaths of land off-limits to what they consider legititimate public uses."  The White House countered that national monuments contain only federal land, and that "private property rights are not affected, and valid existing rights on the federal lands are preserved."

President Clinton signed the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Act of 2000 (H.R. 3676) into law on October 24th, establishing the area as a national monument.  As many in Congress protested Clinton's use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments, Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA) worked with a range of interested parties to establish the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains as a national monument with a unique management plan.  Under the new law, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will manage the new national monument using a plan devised by both the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture.  Placing these lands under the control of BLM, instead of the National Forest Service or other federal agency, allows for a range of recreational activities but would prohibit mining and off-road vehicles from the mountains.

While the national political scene is on hold waiting for the results of the November 7th election, President Clinton moved ahead on leaving his lasting stamp on the nation's physical landscape.  Clinton signed two proclamations on November 9th designating his eleventh National Monument, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, and expanding the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.  On August 11, 2000, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit recommended that the president designate these two monuments..  The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument on the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona covers nearly 300,000 acres near the Grand Canyon.  Cited as a geologic treasure with elevations ranging from 3,100 to 7,100 feet, the area also contains a number of ancestral human sites.  The second proposed site would increase President Coolidge's 1924 Craters of the Moon lava flows monument by nearly 12 times its original size.  Both Vermilion Cliffs and the additional lava flows at Craters of the Moon will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The original Craters of the Moon site is under the protection of the National Park Service.  The Department of the Interior website provides a full description and maps of the monuments.

President Clinton signed S. 2547, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act, into law on November 22, 2000.  Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) introduced the bill in May 2000 to "provide for the establishment of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and the Baca National Wildlife Refuge in the State of Colorado."  According to the White House press release on the presidential signing, the bill "establishes the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the adjacent Great Sand Dunes Preserve to ensure continued protection and public enjoyment."  Also, the law will transfer federal oversight for the park and preserve to the National Park Service as part of the National Park System.


American Land Sovereignty Act
H.R. 883, introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), would require congressional approval over U.S. participation in the international Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites programs and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.  Young first introduced this legislation during the 104th Congress, and then again last year during the 105th.  Last year, the bill passed the House but languished in Senate hearings.  The House Resource Committee website has background on Young's previous attempts to pass legislation on the American Land Sovereignty Act.  Information on bills and hearings from the 105th Congress is available on the AGI website.

Young and other supporters of H.R. 883 are concerned that U.S. participation in the international Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites programs and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands "results in reduced input into land use decisions by state and local government and individuals."  They are also worried that the designations can impact the use and market value of private property, and offer as an example the involvement of the World Heritage Committee in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process for the New World Mine Project adjacent to Yellowstone National Park.  In this case, Crown Butte Resources Ltd., while still in the process of preparing a lengthy EIS, abandoned plans to develop the New World Mine after the World Heritage Committee placed Yellowstone on its "endangered" list.

The Administration and other opponents of this legislation think the passage of H.R. 883 would essentially kill U.S. participation in worthy, international programs.  They point out that designation of a site under these programs does nothing to limit land use decisions of the participants and simply extends special international recognition.  During her testimony before the House Committee on Resources, March 18, 1999, Melinda L. Kimble from the Department of State said: "Aside from aiding in international environmental diplomacy and providing a forum by which the United States has been able to assert successfully influence and leadership, they provide economic benefits to the U.S. (especially with regards to tourism), and our Man and the Biosphere Program provides a valuable framework for international scientific cooperation on the environment."

The Committee for the National Institute for the Environment website has copies of two Congressional Service Reports that provide more background on both the International Biosphere Reserves ( and the World Heritage Sites ( programs.

National Monuments
Legislation in response to the President's declaration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument revolves around the Antiquities Act.  The Antiquities Act was passed in 1906 and allowed the President to unilaterally create national monuments to protect objects of archaeological, scientific, or historical interest.  Since that time, the Act has been used more than 100 times by 14 presidents, resulting in a wide range of current parks and monuments including the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, and the Statue of Liberty.  The Antiquities Act also specifies that only the smallest amount of land necessary shall be withdrawn to form a national monument, and the recent declaration of the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has led some to accuse the President of using the Antiquities Act to side-step Congress on land-use issues.

Proponents of the Antiquities Act find it a valuable and hugely successful means of protecting resources, and believe by not requiring congressional approval or action, at-risk lands are able to be quickly withdrawn. They are quick to point out that Congress does have the power to, in the words of John Leshy at a June 17 hearing before the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, "fix truly bone-headed" withdrawals.  Opponents believe the Constitution gives Congress power of public lands, and the Antiquities Act is being used by the President to avoid congressional input and declare large sections of land as wilderness.  They point to the recent Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the 56 million acres of national monuments created by President Carter in Alaska in 1978 as examples.  In these cases, they question what specifically is of archaeological, scientific, or historical interest that requires so much land to be put aside.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in particular has raised the ire of Republicans, perhaps none more so than the Utah delegation, and has been the subject of numerous legislative attempts by Congress to do everything from allow specific activities in the Monument to overhauling the Antiquities Act.  Senator Hansen's H.R. 1487 in the current Congress is similar to H.R. 1127, the National Monument Fairness Act of 1997.  Hansen authored H.R. 1127 as well, and it passed the House during the 105th Congress.  It failed to pass the Senate, however.  For more information on this bill, and others brought about by the Grand Staircase declaration in the 105th Congress, see the AGI website at

Sources: Hearing Testimony, the Library of Congress website Thomas, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Greenwire, Energy & Environment Publishing, House Resources Committee website, White House website, Department of the Interior website, Bureau of Land Management website, and the Washington Post.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Interns Scott Broadwell, Nathan Morris, Michael Wagg, and Audrey Slesinger, AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Interns Alison Alcott and Mary Patterson, and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted July 1, 1999; Last updated January 18, 2001

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