Conservation Laws

Some notes on the various Congressional Acts that have impacted conservation in the United States of America.

The Antiquities Act of 1906

The Antiquities Act authorizes the President of the United States to “declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected”. It also allows for such antiquities located on private land to be relinquished to the United States government.

The line “confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected” has been used to try and reduce the size of national monuments. This ill-defined “gray” area is what leads the Act to be criticized, often because of ignorance related to the size of the west. Large areas are necessary to provide proper protection, especially when protecting ecological features and wildlife.

 The Antiquities Act is in place for creating and expanding monuments of antiquity. No where does it allow for the reduction or removal of already created monuments. 

See a full list of the National Monuments created by use of the Antiquities Act. Many of these have since become National Parks.

The Organic Act of 1916

The National Park Service Organic Act was passed on 25 August 1916, creating the National Park Service under the Department of the Interior. The first and one of the best directors was Stephen T. Mather.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

The Wilderness Act of 1964

To establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136)

The Wilderness Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, established the National Wilderness Preservation System and defines what “wilderness” is with four points:

  • (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable;
  • (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation;
  • (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and
  • (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value

Government lands protected by the Wilderness Act include National Forests, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and BLM lands. This covers around 109 million acres. These lands are given extra protection against human acts that would degrade and harm the land, leaving them as natural as possible in today’s climate. Note that these lands were already under some sort of protection prior to this act being signed into law.

Endangered Species Act of 1973

Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976

The Secretary shall not make, modify, or revoke any withdrawal created by Act of Congress; make a withdrawal which can be made only by Act of Congress; modify or revoke any withdrawal creating national monuments under the Act of June 8, 1906 (34 Stat. 225; 16 U.S.C. 431–433); or modify, or revoke any withdrawal which added lands to the National Wildlife Refuge System prior to the date of approval of this Act or which thereafter adds lands to that System under the terms of this Act. Nothing in this Act is intend­ed to modify or change any provision of the Act of February 27, 1976 (90 Stat. 199; 16 U.S.C. 668dd (a)).

Title II, Sec. 204 (j)

It is my understanding that it is not legal to reduce the size of a National Monument that was created under the Antiquities Act of 1906.