Our land, our legacy, our responsibility
February 4, 2014
America's public lands are an essential part of our national heritage. The land and history we inherit defines us and we have a moral obligation to safeguard these national treasures and preserve this heritage for future generations.
For well over a century, the Antiquities Act has been a critical tool for realizing this objective. Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the greatest conservationist to ever hold the Presidency, the Antiquities Act has protected iconic places such as the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. Sixteen presidents, from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, have used this landmark law to create more than 130 national monuments across the country.
The Antiquities Act isn’t just good for the environment; it’s good for the economy. National monuments bring tourists from around the world to shop at local businesses, dine at restaurants, and stay at hotels, strengthening the economy and spurring job growth. Tourism is critical to the economy of both of our congressional districts. For instance, in Mendocino County on California’s North Coast, 74 percent of tourists visit the region’s public lands. Mendocino’s public lands help bring an estimated $314 million in annual economic activity to the region – an economic success story that is replicated in many other parts of the country.
This July, the House of Representatives unanimously approved H.R. 1411, which would protect the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, unspoiled coastal lands home to endangered species and some of the best ocean views in Northern California. This bill would create the first land-based addition to the California Coastal National Monument (created by President Clinton using the Antiquities Act) providing a gateway for visitors to experience the monument and would bring additional tourists and jobs to the area.
So far, this is the only bill of its kind to pass the House in the 113th Congress—however, the Senate hasn’t taken up the bill yet. If the Senate fails to act, it may be up to the Obama administration to protect this and other national treasures.
We were encouraged by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s recent visit to the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. After witnessing the local community’s support for expanding the national monument, Secretary Jewell gave assurance that the Administration will take action to protect the land under the Antiquities Act if the Senate fails to pass H.R. 1411.
Like Democratic and Republican presidents before him, President Obama has used the Antiquities Act judiciously. He has acted to officially recognize and protect irreplaceable pieces of the American story, from landscapes like New Mexico's Rio Grande del Norte to national monuments commemorating American leaders like Harriet Tubman and Cesar Chavez.
In the face of mounting attacks on the Antiquities Act in Congress, we are proud to stand together in bipartisan support of this law. Preserving our heritage for the next generation should not be controversial; but dismantling the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt should be. The integrity of the Antiquities Act must be upheld so that we can continue to preserve our nation’s unique landscapes and historic places in the same spirit of bipartisanship and common sense that has guided implementation of this law for over a century.
We welcome the opportunity to work across party lines to support local communities and protect our nation's wild heritage and history. Conservation is not a Republican or Democratic value; it is an American value that we cannot afford to ignore.
Gibson has represented New York's 19th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Agriculture and the Armed Services committees. Huffman has represented California's 2nd Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Budget and the Natural Resources committees.