This month marks the 116th anniversary of the Antiquities Act, which authorized presidents to protect public lands as national monuments. Conservation champion President Teddy Roosevelt signed the historic act into law and designated 18 national monuments across the country. Since then, presidents from both parties have successfully deployed it throughout our nation’s history.
As we recognize the 116th anniversary of the Antiquities Act, it’s stunning to see its wisdom unfold before us. Today, we’re seeing the pressures of westward expansion in a new wave in Montana. A recent poll released by the University of Montana shows the clear nexus of pressures from development and strong bipartisan support for conservation. Among a number of issues polled, the use of the Antiquities Act by presidents (of both parties) to declare national monuments was the most bipartisan issue surveyed – more than two-thirds of those surveyed support its use to protect existing public lands. In other words, Teddy Roosevelt’s wisdom remains a compass, especially for Westerners seeking a path forward in light of post-pandemic growth.
In Montana, the Antiquities Act has been deployed several times to help protect public lands of national, cultural and historical note.
Pompey’s Pillar stands nearly 200 feet above the Yellowstone River and was designated a national monument in 2001. Thanks to the designation, numerous Native American petroglyphs as well as notable marks from history such as the signature of William Clark that are embedded in the sandstone remain protected.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield in southeastern Montana memorializes one of the most famous battles in U.S. and Native American history, where General Custer lost his life in attempting to gain military control over the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes who refused to live within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation
The Upper Missouri River Breaks was designated a monument in 2001 and covers 149 miles of the River in central Montana where you can float, hike, hunt and fish. While there is evidence of old homesteads and some ranching and farming activities, this section of the river has remained largely unchanged since Lewis and Clark’s described it as they passed through on their way to the Pacific in 1805.
We call on our elected leaders to respond to the waves of expansion and the heightened pressure facing our sacred public lands by working with presidents, current and future, to deploy the Antiquities Act to better protect special places in Montana. Its depth of bipartisan support echoes Teddy Roosevelt’s great call to action: “I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest, and in the interest of the country — to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.”
Megan Staats lives in Rock Creek where her family runs a small fly fishing business.
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