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Tuesday, Mar 25 2014 11:06 PM

Preserve the Antiquities Act for posterity

By The Bakersfield Californian

In 2009, renowned filmmaker Ken Burns suggested in the title of his Emmy-winning documentary series that the country's national parks were "America's Best Idea." It's hard to argue with that evaluation. Unless, of course, you're among the members of the U.S. House of Representatives who as soon as today will attempt to pass a resolution that could make establishing protected lands and federal monuments so arduous, it's been dubbed the "No More National Parks Bill."

The Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act -- its official name -- was introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. The bill, H.R. 1459, amends the 108-year-old Antiquities Act by limiting the president's power to independently designate monuments and expand protected areas, actions that often pave the way for declaring larger national parks. That's how we've preserved the Grand Canyon.

Sixteen presidents -- eight Republicans and eight Democrats -- have set aside monuments and lands for preservation using the executive power of the Antiquities Act since Republican Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Rider and conservationist, signed it into law in 1906. The act has served as a tool to skirt do-nothing or do-little Congresses that are rarely inclined to enact such protections. In fact, when Congress granted national protection to Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes earlier this month, it was the first time since 2009 that lawmakers granted such status to any wilderness area.

Rep. Bishop casts his bill as a way to ensure public input before national monuments and federally protected lands can be created. But it's a charade -- a means to bog down the historically accepted process. H.R. 1459 would require an environmental review of any proposed monuments greater than 5,000 acres, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. For sites fewer than 5,000 acres, national-monument designations would expire after just three years unless designated by a change in the law. Each designation would include a "feasibility study" to determine the costs of managing the new monument. H.R. 1459 also would limit the number of designations a president could make to one in each state during a four-year term. The CBO estimates the new bill would cost about $2 million to implement over the next four years.

Opponents say the bill would limit local communities' abilities to petition government bodies for speedy conservation of vital natural, historical and cultural sites.

For Bishop, it's personal as well. The representative believes President Obama "punked" the House by expanding the Coastal California National Monument before Congress could get around to doing so itself. Obama invoked the Antiquities Act for the 10th time as president by adding more than 1,600 acres of federal land in Mendocino County to the monument, which was established in 2000 to protect islands and reefs -- and their marine inhabitants -- along California's coastline.

Few can argue that our national parks and monument aren't popular, or financially important, attractions. Remember last fall's government shutdown? The 16-day stoppage cost national parks approximately eight million visitors and more than $400 million in lost tourist spending.

Obama will veto the bill if it passes, but we hope that formality won't be necessary. We urge Central Valley Reps. Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao and their colleagues to vote no.

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