Repeal the Antiquities Act!

By Henry Lamb
web posted January 17, 2000

If there is any backbone at all in Congress, there should be a rush to repeal the Antiquities Act. President Clinton continues to use it to thumb his nose at Congress, and ignore the Constitution. Our founders had a reason for specifying that Congress -- not the President -- manage federal lands. That reason is to ensure that the consent of the governed empower land management decisions.

The consent of the governed is of little concern to the President, and of even less concern to Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Department of Interior. Clinton is concerned about his "legacy," and about appeasing the enviros who are deserting the Gore candidacy. Babbitt is concerned about making all the enviro-hay he can while the he still holds the power of his office.

Two questions arise that must be addressed: should the land identified in the Presidents's new "monument" designations be set aside as wilderness; and if so, should the set-aside be accomplished by presidential decree?

Setting land aside as "federal" land, goes to the very heart of what America is all about. Are we a land of the free, or are we a land where people must get permission from their government to tread on the land? Until 1964, the federal government was content to designate National Parks as places where citizens could go enjoy the great outdoors. The Wilderness Society, after a 30-year campaign to nationalize all forests, finally succeeded in getting Congress to pass The Wilderness Act of 1964, which set aside nine million acres as wilderness.

At the time, Hubert Humphrey said that the designation was to show posterity what their forefathers had to conquer to create the nation.

Since 1964, more than 100-million acres have been designated as wilderness. Clinton's "Land Legacy" initiative proposes to set aside at least 40-million more acres as wilderness by closing existing roads on federal lands. With the stroke of a pen, he set aside 1.8 million acres in Utah, and is now setting aside more than a million acres in Arizona and California.

Don't be fooled by the goody-two-shoes claim that he is "protecting" the land for future generations. He is locking up the land to ensure that future generations can have no benefit from it. Wilderness designation not only prevents logging and mining; it prevents family outings, hunting, and even walking freely through the so-called "public" land.

To even look at the "public" land, people (the owners) must first get permission from the government. If permission is granted, the procedure for looking at the land is stipulated by the government, and enforced by gun-totin' Babbitt-operatives. To see the Grand Canyon, the owners will have to see it the way Bruce and Bill think you ought to see it: park miles away and ride their enviro-friendly rail car on a guided tour. Woe be unto an owner who accidentally drops a chewing-gum wrapper. Most of the locked-up land will simply no longer be available to the owners.

Land, and the resources it contains, is the prosperity future generations will require. Land lock- ups deny future generations their birthright, and force all of us into further submission to the will of self-appointed protectors of the planet.

If land is to be taken out of productive use, it should be for good reason, agreed to by the elected representatives of the people. Both the practice and the procedure of this administration is an abomination to freedom-loving Americans. Land, and its resources, are the property of individual citizens, and should not be taken by the government by decree. The land owned by government is owned for the benefit of all the people, not just for the benefit of owls, bears, and wolves. Neither Bruce nor Bill have the right to deny us, or future generations, the benefit of our land. They have the power, however.

Congress needs to remove that power. Clinton ordered the Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules for closing forest roads in order to effectively deny the owners access to their property. Congress must not allow appointed bureaucrats, even at the direction of the President, to usurp their Constitutional responsibility to manage federal lands.

Congress needs to repeal the Antiquities Act, which is Clinton's favorite target for Presidential abuse. Babbitt has admitted that the lands targeted for the Arizona and California lock-up are not threatened, but he has recommended them for lock-up anyway, to ensure that they will not be threatened in the future. With such a criteria, is any land in America safe from the greedy clutches of this radically green bunch of bureaucrats?

This last year of Clinton's reign will see more sweeping exercise of dictatorial power, especially as Gore's poll-numbers continue to falter. Unless Congress exercises its power to stop the Clinton-Babbitt land grab, we'll see this scenario repeated time and time again.

Our land does not need to be protected from the people, its rightful owners; it needs to be protected from the government. Congress, where is your backbone?

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization, and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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