National monument (United States)

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Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming Devils Tower as Seen From the Path Along the Base.jpg
Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Navajo National Monument, Arizona Navajo National Monument Tsegi Canyon Betatakin Dwelling 28-09-2012 9-38-03.jpg
Navajo National Monument, Arizona
Statue of Liberty National Monument, New Jersey and New York Liberty01.jpg
Statue of Liberty National Monument, New Jersey and New York
Fort Matanzas National Monument, Florida Ft Matanzas 2008.JPG
Fort Matanzas National Monument, Florida

In the United States, a national monument is a protected area that can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government by proclamation of the President of the United States or an act of Congress. National monuments protect a wide variety of natural and historic resources, including sites of geologic, marine, archaeological, and cultural importance.


The 129 national monuments are managed by several federal agencies: the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (in the case of marine national monuments). Historically, some national monuments were managed by the War Department. [1]

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents the power to proclaim national monuments by executive action. President Theodore Roosevelt used the act to declare Devils Tower in Wyoming as the first U.S. national monument.


Supt. Frank "Boss" Pinkley - the southwestern national monuments, 1934 Boss Pinkley 1934.jpg
Supt. Frank "Boss" Pinkley – the southwestern national monuments, 1934

The Antiquities Act authorized permits for legitimate archaeological investigations and penalties for taking or destroying antiquities without permission. Additionally, it authorized the president to proclaim "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" on federal lands 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." [2]

Presidents have used the Antiquities Act's proclamation authority not only to create new national monuments but to enlarge existing ones. For example, 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. [3]

Early 20th century origin

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 American West.

The reference in the act to "objects of ... scientific interest" enabled President Theodore Roosevelt to make a natural geological feature, Devils Tower in Wyoming, the first national monument three months later. [4] Among the next three monuments he proclaimed in 1906 was Petrified Forest in Arizona, another natural feature. In 1908, Roosevelt used the act to proclaim more than 800,000 acres (3,200 km2) of the Grand Canyon as a national monument.

In response to Roosevelt's declaration of the Grand Canyon monument, a putative mining claimant sued in federal court, claiming that Roosevelt had overstepped the Antiquities Act authority by protecting an entire canyon. In 1920, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Grand Canyon was indeed "an object of historic or scientific interest" and could be protected by proclamation, setting a precedent for the use of the Antiquities Act to preserve large areas. [5] Federal courts have since rejected every challenge to the president's use of Antiquities Act preservation authority, ruling that the law gives the president exclusive discretion over the determination of the size and nature of the objects protected.

Mid-20th century

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Katmai National Monument in Alaska, comprising more than 1,000,000 acres (4,000 km2). Katmai was later enlarged to nearly 2,800,000 acres (11,000 km2) by subsequent Antiquities Act proclamations and for many years was the largest national park system unit.

Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, and Great Sand Dunes, among several other national parks, were also originally proclaimed as national monuments and later designated as national parks by Congress. [6] [7] [8]

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 except for areas of 5,000 acres or less.

Late 20th century and early 21st century

The most substantial use of the proclamation authority came in 1978, when President Jimmy Carter proclaimed 17 new national monuments in Alaska after Congress had adjourned without passing a major Alaska lands bill. 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.

Carter's 1978 proclamations included Misty Fjords and Admiralty Island National Monuments in the U.S. Forest Service and Becharof and Yukon Flats National Monuments in the Fish and Wildlife Service, the first to be created outside of the National Park Service. The latter two became national wildlife refuges in 1980.

The proclamation authority was not used again anywhere until 1996, when President Bill Clinton proclaimed the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. This was the first national monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management. This action was unpopular in Utah, [9] and bills were introduced to further restrict the president's authority, [10] none of which have been enacted. Most of the 16 national monuments created by President Clinton are managed not by the National Park Service, but by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Landscape Conservation System.

President George W. Bush created four marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean, the largest in the system. They are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration overseeing the fisheries. President Barack Obama significantly expanded two of them and added a fifth in the Atlantic Ocean. [11]

On June 24, 2016, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn and surrounding areas in Greenwich Village, New York as the Stonewall National Monument, the first national monument commemorating the struggle for LGBT rights in the United States. [12] His establishments included several others recognizing civil rights history, including César E. Chávez, Belmont–Paul Women's Equality, and Freedom Riders National Monuments.

In December 2017, Donald Trump substantially reduced the sizes of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments, removing protections on about 2.8 million acres of land where mining could resume. [13] [14] Three lawsuits challenging the legality of this action are pending in federal court, [15] though President Joe Biden has signaled he will reverse the changes. [16]

List of national monuments

See also

Related Research Articles

Grand Canyon National Park Protected area in Arizona, United States

Grand Canyon National Park, located in northwestern Arizona, is the 15th site in the United States to have been named as a national park. The park's central feature is the Grand Canyon, a gorge of the Colorado River, which is often considered one of the Wonders of the World. The park, which covers 1,217,262 acres of unincorporated area in Coconino and Mohave counties, received more than six million recreational visitors in 2017, which is the second highest count of all American national parks after Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Grand Canyon was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The park celebrated its 100th anniversary on February 26, 2019.

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument

The Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument (GSENM) is a United States national monument originally designated in 1996 as 1,880,461 acres (7,610 km2) of protected land in southern Utah. In 2017, the monument's size was reduced by half in a succeeding presidential proclamation. The land is among the most remote in the country; it was the last to be mapped in the contiguous United States.

Executive order Federal administrative instruction issued by the president of the United States

An executive order is a means of issuing federal directives in the United States, used by the President of the United States, that manages operations of the federal government. The legal or constitutional basis for executive orders has multiple sources. Article Two of the United States Constitution gives the president broad executive and enforcement authority to use his or her discretion to determine how to enforce the law or to otherwise manage the resources and staff of the executive branch. The ability to make such orders is also based on expressed or implied Acts of Congress that delegate to the president some degree of discretionary power.

In all modern states, a portion of land is held by central or local governments. This is called public land, state land, or Crown land. The system of tenure of public land, and the terminology used, varies between countries. The following examples illustrate some of the range.

Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) is a United States federal law signed by President Jimmy Carter on December 2, 1980. ANILCA provided varying degrees of special protection to over 157,000,000 acres (64,000,000 ha) of land, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, wild and scenic rivers, recreational areas, national forests, and conservation areas. It was, and remains to date, the single largest expansion of protected lands in history and more than doubled the size of the National Park System.

Antiquities Act

The Antiquities Act of 1906,, is an act that was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906. This law gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features. The Act has been used more than a hundred times since its passage.

Forest Reserve Act of 1891 Which established the U.S. National forests

The Forest Reserve Act of 1891 is a law that gives the President of the United States the authority to unilaterally set aside forest reserves from land in the public domain. After newspapers began to publicize the fraud and speculation under the previous Timber Culture Act of 1873 that granted additional land to homesteaders agreeing to plant trees, scientists of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) joined with the American Forestry Association to advocate for stronger laws for the management of the nation's forest land. The resulting act, passed by the 51st United States Congress and signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison on March 3, 1891, set out to both protect local watersheds from flooding and erosion as well as to prevent over-exploitation of the country's timber supply.

Escalante National Monument was proposed by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes in the 1930s as a unit of the U.S. National Park Service in the canyonlands of south central Utah. Centering on the canyons of the Escalante River, the proposed monument encompassed portions of present-day Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks, Natural Bridges and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The proposed national monument was to encompass about 4,500,000 acres (1,800,000 ha). The Second World War interrupted Ickes initiative, which had encountered resistance from Utah politicians.

History of the National Park Service

Since 1872 the United States National Park System has grown from a single, public reservation called Yellowstone National Park to include 418 natural, historical, recreational, and cultural areas throughout the United States, its territories, and island possessions. These areas include National Parks, National Monuments, National Memorials, National Military Parks, National Historic Sites, National Parkways, National Recreation Areas, National Seashores, National Scenic Riverways, and National Scenic Trails.

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is a United States National Monument managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which encompasses parts of the Angeles National Forest and the San Bernardino National Forest in California. On October 10, 2014, President Barack Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to create the new monument, protecting 346,177 acres of public lands in the San Gabriel Mountains of the Transverse Ranges. The effort to protect the San Gabriel Mountains began more than a century earlier, in 1891 with another U.S. President, Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president, using a congressional act, to designate and delineate the first federal protection in the United States of forested lands, using the same mountain range name, as the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve. Two earlier California conservationists, Abbot Kinney and John Muir, influenced President Benjamin Harrison.

Browns Canyon National Monument Protected habitat in Chaffee County, Colorado

Browns Canyon National Monument is a 21,586 acres (87 km2) national monument in Chaffee County, Colorado that was designated as such by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act on February 19, 2015. The site will be centered along the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Salida. Browns Canyon is the most popular destination for whitewater rafting in the country, and is also known for its fishing and hiking. The monument will provide habitat protection for bighorn sheep, peregrine falcons, elk, and golden eagles.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a U.S. National Monument spanning 87,563 acres (35,435 ha) of mountains and forestland in northern Penobscot County, Maine, including a section of the East Branch Penobscot River. The monument is located on the eastern border of Maine's Baxter State Park.

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is a marine national monument of the United States off the coast of New England, on the edge of Georges Bank. It was created by President Barack Obama on September 15, 2016. It is the first U.S. national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

Bears Ears National Monument Protected area in Utah

Bears Ears National Monument is a United States national monument located in San Juan County in southeastern Utah, established by President Barack Obama by presidential proclamation on December 28, 2016. The monument's original size was 1,351,849 acres, which was controversially reduced by 85% by President Donald Trump on December 4, 2017. The monument protects the public land surrounding the Bears Ears—a pair of buttes—and the Indian Creek corridor rock climbing area. The Native American names for the buttes have the same meaning in each of the languages represented in the region. The names are listed in the presidential proclamation as "Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa [sic], Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe"—all four mean "Bears Ears".

Gold Butte National Monument

Gold Butte National Monument is a United States national monument located in Clark County, Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas and south of Mesquite and Bunkerville. The monument protects nearly 300,000 acres of desert landscapes featuring a wide array of natural and cultural resources, including rock art, sandstone towers, and important wildlife habitat for species including the Mojave Desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, and mountain lion. The area also protects historic ranching and mining sites such as the ghost town of Gold Butte, although little but mine openings, cement foundations, and a few pieces of rusting equipment remains. The monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Marine policy of the Barack Obama administration

The Marine Policy of the Barack Obama administration comprises several significant environmental policy decisions for the oceans made during his two terms in office from 2009 to 2017. By executive action, President Obama increased fourfold the amount of protected marine space in waters under United States control, setting an important precedent for global ocean conservation. Using the U.S. president's authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906, he expanded to 200 nautical miles the seaward limits of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument around the U.S. island possessions in the Central Pacific. In the Atlantic, President Obama created the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first marine monument in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Atlantic. Early in his presidency, on July 19, 2010, Obama signed Executive Order 13547, entitled "Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes." This order created a policy framework for integrated marine spatial planning at the sub-national level as well as a national ocean council, a cabinet-level forum to coordinate policy under the nation's domestic and international rules for the oceans. In 2014, the Obama administration inaugurated the "Our Ocean" series of annual conferences to build and promote international cooperation to protect the world's oceans. Members of the Obama cabinet testified on behalf of U.S. accession to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, to strengthen international norms respecting the freedom of navigation and for the sustainable development and use of marine resources. At the end of his second term in office, President Obama approved rules recommended by the National Ocean Council to combat illegal fishing on the high seas and seafood mislabeling through import traceability and catch certification requirements.

Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association v. Ross is a United States District Court case in the District of Columbia in which the court determined whether or not a President may establish a marine national monument, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The case represents the first time that the President's authority to create an offshore marine monument under the Act was directly challenged in court. While the District Court upheld the President's authority to designate the monument under the authority bestowed by the Antiquities Act, the case was appealed to the D.C. Circuit and awaits further judicial review.


  1. Glimpses of Our National Monuments. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1930. Archived from the original on November 22, 2012.
  2. "American Antiquities Act". National Park Service. Archived from the original on October 11, 2014. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  3. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (N.M.). Resource Management Plan: Environmental Impact Statement. January 1, 2009. Archived from the original on December 6, 2017.
  4. "Devils Tower first 50 years" (PDF). National Park Service. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 31, 2009. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  5. "Cameron v. United States". 1920. 252 U.S. 450. Archived from the original on March 30, 2014.
  6. "PUBLIC LAW 85-358-MAR. 28, 1958" (PDF). Government Printing Office. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 13, 2014. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  7. "Records of the NPS". Archived from the original on October 16, 2014. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  8. "Antiquities Act 1906–2006: Maps, facts and figures". National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Archived from the original on 12 December 2017. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  9. Wieber, Audrey (October 12, 2014). "Locals bitter over Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument creation". Twin Falls Times-News. Twin Falls, Idaho. Archived from the original on August 26, 2015. Retrieved July 11, 2015 via
  10. Lewis, Neil A. (October 8, 1997). "House tweaks Clinton over creation of national monuments". The New York Times . Archived from the original on July 20, 2015. Retrieved July 11, 2015.
  11. "Obama Designates 1st Marine National Monument In The Atlantic Ocean". NPR. Retrieved February 13, 2021.
  12. "President Obama Designates Stonewall National Monument". (Press release). June 24, 2016. Archived from the original on February 16, 2017 via National Archives. Official announcement from White House Press Office
  13. Keith Schneider, Trump dramatically shrinks two national monuments in Utah, assailing rule by 'distant bureaucrats', Los Angeles Times (December 4, 2017).
  14. Eilperin, Juliet (December 8, 2017). "Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears National Monument". The Washington Post . Archived from the original on January 2, 2018. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  15. "NRDC et al. v. Trump (Bears Ears)". NRDC. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  16. "Biden expected to reverse Trump's order to shrink Utah national monuments". National Geographic. January 14, 2021. Retrieved February 13, 2021.