No one feels comfortable when someone else has the power to irreparably change the world with a simple stroke of a pen.
Thanks to the American Antiquities Act of 1906, the president of the United States has the power to unleash a huge federal bureaucracy and create national monuments on his own authority without the approval of Congress or any other governmental entity or agency.
Congress approved the act to allow the president to preserve “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”
That far-reaching presidential power raised concern locally when approximately 3 million acres of the Modoc Plateau, largely located in Lassen County, was included on a list of 14 sites in nine states proposed for national monument status, according to a Department of the Interior memo leaked to the public by a Utah congressman last month.
President Theodore Roosevelt first used the act to create the Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming in 1906. In fact, he created 18 national monuments during his tenure — including Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone in what eventually became Lassen Volcanic National Park.
More recently, President George W. Bush created five national monuments, and President Bill Clinton established Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah in 1996.
While local business and governmental interests initially oppose many national monument designations, few among us would object today to the preservation of the Grand Canyon, the Tetons or Death Valley — all national monuments that eventually became national parks.
Let’s be completely honest for a moment — even the most optimistic lover of wide-open spaces, anthropology and scientific inquiry among us would have a pretty hard time trying to sell anyone, anywhere on the idea of a gigantic, sprawling Modoc Plateau National Park.
The Lassen County Board of Supervisors rightly wants to be included in the decision-making process before such a designation is made and nearly 4,700 square miles of local land are set aside for preservation, potentially upsetting long-standing local planning and economic development decisions as well as possibly disrupting the livelihood of many ranchers and private landowners.
Protecting our wilderness is important to all of us, but our local elected officials at least deserve a seat at the table and an opportunity to express their concerns before the president signs such a far-reaching order that changes the land use of Lassen County forever.