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United States National Monument

A National Monument is a protected area in the United States that is similar to a National Park except the President of the United States can quickly declare an area of the United States to be a National Monument without approval from Congress. There are also fewer protections offered to wildlife and to the geographic features in a National Monument compared to the protection (and funding) that a National Park receives.

Another difference between a National Monument and National Park is the amount of diversity in what is being protected; National Monuments aim to preserve at least one unique resource but do not have the amount of diversity of a National Park (which are supposed to protect a host of unique features). However areas within and extending beyond, National Parks, Monuments or even United States National Forests can be part of a United States Wilderness areas which have an even greater degree of protection than a National Park would alone.

The power to grant National Monuments came from Theodore Roosevelt who declared Devils Tower as the very first National Monument. He thought congress was moving too slow and it would be ruined by the time they got around to making it a National Park.

Table of contents
1 History
2 United States National Monuments (in order of establishment)
3 Reference


The Antiquities Act of 1906 resulted from concerns about protecting mostly prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts-collectively termed "antiquities "-on federal lands in the West. It authorized permits for legitimate archeological investigations and penalties for persons taking or destroying antiquities without permission. And it authorized presidents to proclaim "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" as national monuments-"the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."

So it was originally expected that national monuments would be proclaimed to protect prehistoric cultural features, or antiquities, and that they would be small. Yet the reference in the act to "objects of ... scientific interest" enabled President Theodore Roosevelt to make a natural geological feature, Devils Tower, Wyoming, the first national monument three months later. Among the next three monuments he proclaimed in 1906 was Petrified Forest in Arizona; another natural feature.

The expectation that national monuments would be small was also soon overcome. In 1908 Roosevelt again used the act to proclaim more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as a national monument-a very big "object of scientific interest." And in 1918 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Katmai National Monument in Alaska, comprising more than a million acres. Katmai was later enlarged to nearly 2.8 million acres by subsequent Antiquities Act proclamations and for many years was the largest national park system unit. Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, and Katmai were among the many national monuments later converted to national parks by Congress.

There was no significant congressional opposition to this expansive use of the Antiquities Act in Arizona and Alaska-perhaps in part because Arizona and Alaska were then only territories without representation in the United States Congress. Substantial opposition did not materialize until 1943, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Jackson Hole National Monument in Wyoming. He did this to accept a donation of lands acquired by John D. Rockefeller, Jr, for addition to Grand Teton National Park after Congress had declined to authorize this park expansion. Roosevelt's proclamation unleashed a storm of criticism about use of the Antiquities Act to circumvent Congress. A bill abolishing Jackson Hole National Monument passed Congress but was vetoed by Roosevelt, and congressional and court challenges to the proclamation authority were mounted. In 1950 Congress finally incorporated most of the monument into Grand Teton National Park, but the act doing so barred further use of the proclamation authority in Wyoming.

Since 1943 the proclamation authority has been used very sparingly, and seldom without advance congressional consultation and support. In 1949, for example, President Harry S. Truman proclaimed Effigy Mounds National Monument to accept a donation of the land from the state of Iowa, at the request of Iowa's delegation. On those rare occasions when the proclamation authority was used in seeming defiance of local and congressional sentiment, Congress again retaliated. Just before he left office in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Monument after Congress had declined to act on related national historical park legislation. The chairman of the House Interior Committee, Wayne Aspinall of Colorado, responded by blocking action on subsequent C & 0 Canal Park bills to the end of that decade.

The most substantial use of the proclamation authority came in 1978, when President Jimmy Carter proclaimed 15 new national monuments in Alaska after Congress had adjourned without passing a major Alaska lands bill strongly opposed in that state. Congress passed a revised version of the bill in 1980 incorporating most of these national monuments into national parks and preserves, but the act also curtailed further use of the proclamation authority in Alaska.

The proclamation authority was not used again anywhere until 1996, when President Bill Clinton proclaimed the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. This action was widely unpopular in Utah, and bills were introduced to further restrict the president's authority. To date none of them have been enacted.

Presidents have used the Antiquities Act's proclamation authority not just to create new national monuments but to enlarge existing ones. A few examples: Franklin D. Roosevelt significantly enlarged Dinosaur National Monument in 1938, Lyndon B. Johnson added Ellis Island to Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965, and Jimmy Carter made major additions to Glacier Bay and Katmai national monuments in 1978.

United States National Monuments (in order of establishment)