By Eilene Lyon
You may have surmised by now that I love the desert. Whether I’m counting cacti or tagging tortoises – or just taking a walk through the wilderness – the sunlight, landforms, and wildlife captivate me. Some of the most stunning American desert landscapes are now protected as National Parks and National Monuments.
I can’t overstate the importance of the 1906 Antiquities Act in creating these pockets of preserved natural habitat. Here are a couple examples.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park got its start in 1909, when President William Howard Taft used the three-year-old Act to establish what was then called Mukuntuweap National Monument. When Congress made the monument a National Park in 1919, they change the name to Zion, believing that people would be less interested in visiting a park if it had an Indian or Spanish name.
In 1937, an adjoining parcel was proclaimed as Zion National Monument and later incorporated into the park. The park today encompasses 229 square miles. Yes, it is crowded in the summer, but it’s stunning in the winter, too. I’ve been in the park after a light dusting of muffling snow; the hush is palpable. On a drizzly day, you can see waterfalls plummeting from thousand-foot-high cliffs. You won’t see that in the summer.
At Zion, you just might get an up-close look at the endangered condor
Death Valley National Park
This park also was initially established by presidential proclamation as a National Monument in 1933, thanks to President Herbert Hoover. Unfortunately, at that time, the status did not confer protection from mineral development interests. Mining on an industrial scale was occurring throughout the monument. Public outcry (yes, your voice matters!!) changed that loophole with the 1976 Mining in the Parks Act. However, some mining still goes on in Death Valley, due to grandfather clauses.
The much photographed view at sunrise from Zabriskie Point
Yes, you CAN make snowmen in Death Valley National Park!
The 1906 Antiquities Act
The Antiquities Act was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906. He wasted no time in using it to protect public land. He declared four monuments in 1906, five in 1907, eight in 1908, and one in 1909. Overall, eight Democrat and eight Republican presidents have used the Act to establish monuments.
Currently, there are a number of bills introduced that would irreparably harm the Act. The most egregious, not surprisingly introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), is H.R. 3990. Don’t let the ironic name – National Monument Creation and Protection Act – fool you into thinking this bill is about creating monuments. If passed into law, it will make creation of new monuments essentially impossible. To counter these attacks, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced the 2018 ANTIQUITIES Act (S. 2354). I hope you’ll find time to tell your senator to support this vital legislation.