On June 8, the Antiquities Act celebrated its 111th anniversary. Signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the act gives sitting presidents the authority to set aside natural landscapes and historic landmarks on existing federal lands or donated lands.
It gives special places enhanced protections for recreation and natural values like clean rivers and streams — and it keeps industrial development in more suitable areas. It also gives local communities a say in how these lands should be managed.
Since Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, 16 different presidents — Republicans and Democrats — have used it to set land aside for the benefit of us all. Hundreds of thousands of square miles for hunting, fishing, hiking and camping have been set aside over the years — conserving fish and wildlife habitat and areas for outdoor recreation that benefits locals and draws visitors from around the world.
According to the most recent data, outdoor recreation in West Virginia alone supports over 82,000 jobs and generates more than $532 million in state and local tax revenue, with 59 percent of West Virginians enjoying the state’s parks and public lands.
But the future of the Antiquities Act is uncertain. Some members of Congress and special interest groups want to take away presidential authority to protect these special places. And they want to increase drilling and mining on public lands. Some even want public lands parceled out and sold off to the highest bidder.
All this flies in the face of what West Virginians say they want.
A recent poll by West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the National Wildlife Federation showed that nearly two-thirds of voters in our state are against taking away the presidential powers in the Antiquities Act. What’s more, 87 percent of West Virginia voters want monument designations kept in place, and 93 percent favor special protection for national public lands, like the Birthplace of Rivers in the Monongahela National Forest, so that they stay open for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.
Like the West Virginia electorate, two-thirds of poll respondents voted for President Donald Trump — and they want the Antiquities Act left alone.
West Virginians are on the same page, but Congress needs to hear from us. They need to know that the Antiquities Act and our public lands are defended.
The idea of scuttling the national monuments and the Antiquities Act is more than an idle threat. In the past year, we’ve seen various Congressional attempts to slash the ability of current and future presidents to set aside lands with the Antiquities Act and water down protections for public lands. So far, all of these efforts have been defeated, because of hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts standing up and speaking out.
As much as any state in the Union, West Virginians understand the importance of conserving America’s outdoor heritage. We must keep America’s public lands in public hands, so we can all enjoy their bounty. West Virginia’s Congressional delegation has a longstanding bipartisan tradition of defending our public lands, but Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, and House members need to hear from hunters, anglers and everyone who loves the outdoors, about the importance of America’s public lands and the Antiquities Act.
For West Virginians who treasure our public lands — and that’s just about all of us — it’s time to make our voices heard.
Collin O’Mara is president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, and Angie Rosser is executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a statewide nonprofit advocating for clean rivers for people and wildlife, and also a National Wildlife Federation affiliate in West Virginia.