One of the tools that the White House and Congress use to conserve our country’s rich history, cultural, and natural resources is the designation of national monuments, as sanctioned by the 1906 Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act was originally intended to give the President and Congress the tools to quickly and effectively protect our country’s natural heritage for generations to come. However, this laudable goal can only be achieved if national monuments are created using science-based decision-making that takes into account the crucial role that hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping play in conservation through the American System of Conservation Funding.
One of the tools that the White House and Congress use to conserve our country’s rich history, as well as our cultural and natural resources, is the designation of national monuments as sanctioned by the 1906 Antiquities Act.1 Conceived by one of America’s most famous sportsmen-conservationists, President Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act gives both the President and Congress broad discretion to designate any piece of federal land as a monument, provided the monument is “confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected”. According to the Antiquities Act, monuments can be established on land owned or controlled by the federal government, thus most (but not all) are managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. There are currently 129 National Monuments in the United States, with 85 managed by the National Park Service, 28 managed by the Bureau of Land Management, 13 by the U.S. Forest Service, and a small number managed by various other agencies, including the U.S. military.
Monument designation can provide increased conservation of high-quality fish and wildlife habitat and secure existing hunting, fishing, and recreational target shooting opportunities where these activities have been traditional uses of the designated lands. This is not always the case, as monuments can be designated for many reasons, including to protect landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest, and thus are not mandated to adhere to science-based wildlife management practices. This can present serious challenges to the ability of state and federal agencies to effectively manage fish and wildlife. Additionally, designations can pose significant challenges to continued and reasonable access for sportsmen and women. Without clear direction in the designating proclamation or legislation, historical access by sportsmen and women can be unnecessarily restricted. Consequently, protecting historical uses of land and water, including for hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and trapping, is dependent upon the development of science-based resource management plans that account for the many benefits of recreational and subsistence use by sportsmen and women.
The Antiquities Act was originally intended to give the President and Congress the tools to quickly and effectively protect our country’s natural heritage for generations to come. However, this laudable goal can only be achieved if national monuments are created using science-based decision making that takes into considerable account the crucial role that hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping play in conservation through the American System of Conservation Funding.
Points of Interest
- Monument designations should be developed through a public process that generates support from local sportsmen and women and appropriate state and local governments.
- Reasonable public access should be retained to enable continued hunting, fishing, and recreational target shooting opportunities.
- Monument proclamations should clearly stipulate that existing management authority over fish and wildlife populations will be retained by state fish and wildlife agencies with the flexibility necessary to fulfill their public trust responsibilities to conserve fish and wildlife, achieve wildlife management objectives, establish seasons and bag limits, and regulate method-of-take.
- Legislation or proclamations establishing national monuments should explicitly state that active habitat management practices are authorized within monument boundaries to ensure that wildlife management objectives can be met.
- Existing sporting opportunities should be upheld and the historical and cultural significance of hunting and fishing explicitly acknowledged in monument proclamations.
- In most instances, where it is a historic and existing use, recreational shooting can be managed to be compatible with the stated purpose of a national monument, and therefore should be recognized as a compatible activity in the respective monument proclamation or legislation.
- In 2007, the Arizona Senate passed Senate Memorial 1006, opposing restrictions to recreational shooting on the Ironwood Forest National Monument. In 2016, the Senate again passed a similar memorial opposing recreational shooting restrictions placed on the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
- In 2015, state sportsmen’s caucus leaders from across the Northeast sent a letter urging the Obama Administration not to arbitrarily deny access to recreational fishing by establishing a national marine monument.
- In April of 2016, the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council (WHHCC), a federal advisory committee that advises the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture on recreational hunting and wildlife resource issues, sent a letter to both Secretaries providing guidance on how the values and opportunities of sportsmen and women should be considered in proposals seeking to establish national monuments on lands that are of importance to America’s hunters, anglers, and recreational shooters. In May of 2016, the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council (SFBPC), a federal advisory committee that advises the Secretary of the Interior on aquatic conservation endeavors that benefit recreational fishery resources and recreational boating, submitted a similar letter to the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce outlining their recommendations for the establishment of marine national monuments.
- In early 2017, the Trump Administration reviewed several national monuments in hope of opening them to certain forms of development. Upon its early announcement, sportsmen were concerned that this move would lead to the decrease of hunting access on these lands, however in some cases it opened up previously unavailable land to hunting and fishing. Some monuments were divided into several pieces exposing areas with natural resources. This land, no longer a part of these monuments, still remained federal land. The main obstacle to hunting and fishing with the new management plan was the private development in the realm of mining and other resource extraction which has taken place.
Whether through the Antiquities Act or legislative designation, legislators at the state and federal level are encouraged to advocate for national monument designations that address the priorities and values of sportsmen and women and include a planning process that is transparent, locally driven, and guided by science-based conservation principles that elevate consideration of wildlife habitat and existing hunting, fishing, and recreational target shooting uses.