Op-Ed: Leave the Powers of the Antiquities Act in Place

By Trimble, Stephen | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), December 27, 2017 | Go to article overview

Op-Ed: Leave the Powers of the Antiquities Act in Place


Trimble, Stephen, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


By asking Congress to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act, the Deseret News (Dec. 3) places our state at odds with both the legacy of our history and the promise of our future.

When the editors write, “Nearly two-thirds of Utah is owned by the federal government,” they miss an essential truth. I would say, “nearly two-thirds of Utah is owned by the people of the United States, managed and held in public trust by the federal government.”

Utah has the nation’s second highest percentage of public lands because we are the second driest state. Disparity in rainfall explains why so few well-watered Eastern states retain so few public lands — and why they lack our sweep of undeveloped deserts and mountains, open to all. Our dry land couldn’t provide a living to homesteaders, and this is why so much of Utah remains publicly owned.

The editors worry about Utah being “vulnerable to future monument designations.” This is a gift, not a burden. Our dry lands, our public treasures, contain landscapes unique on the planet.

Utahns have the accidental honor of living in the midst of these public lands. Our citizens contribute insider knowledge to the never-ending national conversation about the future of these landscapes. But the rest of America has equal say.

We can learn from the experiences of neighboring Western states in grappling with the promise of public lands.

When FDR used his authority under the Antiquities Act to proclaim Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943, Wyoming’s politicians reacted just as today’s Utah officials responded to Grand Staircase and Bears Ears. Teton County Commissioner Cliff Hansen illegally drove cattle through the new monument in protest. Wyoming’s attorney general sued the feds — and lost. The Wyoming delegation pushed a bill through Congress to exempt the state from further executive-order national monuments.

When FDR vetoed Congress’ bill to abolish Jackson Hole National Monument in 1944, he wrote of his use of the Antiquities Act, “There are few official acts of the President … so amply supported by precedent. …

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