Must keep natural legacy

Some legislation defines judgment down.

The U.S. House of Representatives votes as early as today on a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop that defangs the conservation legacy of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. Defeating it is not only in the public interest, but an opportunity for moderate, conservation-minded Republicans to reclaim one of their party’s noblest legacies.

Bishop’s bill, HB 1459, is the latest effort to sandbag the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law signed by Teddy Roosevelt, and employed for more than a century by 16 presidents. It provides the president with the power to declare national monuments, particularly when Congress is gridlocked (think San Juan Islands National Monument, established by President Obama last year after an intransigent Congress took the inertia route.)

Bishop’s bill makes any new national monument less than 5,000 acres temporary, expiring after just three years. For San Juan Islands National Monument, totaling 955 acres, there only would be two years to go before resetting the battle lines — this despite community support from small business owners, conservationists and members of Congress to preserve a landscape that wings from Patos Island to Turn Point on Stuart Island (HB 1459 thankfully isn’t retroactive.)

Critics derisively label Bishop’s bill the “No More Parks Bill” and rightly so. Roosevelt established Olympic National Monument in 1908, which subsequently became Olympic National Park in 1938. Other examples include Arcadia, Muir Woods and the Grand Canyon.

“Historically, use of the Antiquities Act has been bipartisan,” said Matt Keller, national monuments campaign director at The Wilderness Society. “For instance, President George W. Bush used the Antiquities Act to establish the Papahãnaumokuãkea Marine National Monument in 2006. This is the largest conservation area under the U.S. flag, encompassing nearly 140,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, which is larger than all the country’s national parks combined.”

The bill is oddly un-Republican, costing taxpayers an additional $2 million over the next four years, according to the Congressional Budget Office; it also creates limits and bureaucratic roadblocks for monument designations, burdening local communities.

“H.R. 1459 and similar efforts to undermine protection of public lands are out of step with public opinion,” said Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director at The Wilderness Society. “Overwhelmingly, Americans favor management of our public lands and waters in ways that enhance quality of life, boost local economies and preserve these landscapes for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Here’s a vehicle for Rep. Dave Reichert, who can breathe life into the Dan Evans wing of the Republican Party, to push back. Just say no to this backwards bill.