Since 2009, Congress has grid-locked around three dozen bills that would protect new acres of public land. Even locally grown, something-for-everyone wilderness bills, like Montana's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, are rotting in a legislature plagued by dysfunction and public-lands phobia ("Wilderness bills languish in legislative limbo," HCN, 3/5/12). Public-land advocates are turning to President Obama, who has recently used his authority under the Antiquities Act to create national monuments in places including Washington's San Juan Islands and along the California coastline.
On May 21, the president designated his largest monument yet: the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, nearly half a million acres of rugged land above Las Cruces in southern New Mexico. The monument was denounced by House Republicans, who in March voted to gut the Antiquities Act, but hailed by local conservationists and sportsmen, who expect it to generate up to $7.4 million annually for nearby communities.
Correction: The original version of this story stated that congressional legislation had proposed Idaho's Boulder-White Clouds as a national monument. In fact, the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) would designate three separate wilderness areas totaling over 300,000 acres.