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Know the West

National monuments are here to stay

  President Clinton’s national monuments have survived a legal assault by two conservative groups that sought to strip the areas of protection. On Oct. 6, the Supreme Court declined to hear arguments against six Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service-managed monuments created in 2000 and 2001. The monuments, including Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona and Giant Sequoia in California, add up to more than 6 million acres in five Western states.

The 1906 Antiquities Act grants the president broad authority to protect areas of historical and scientific significance. But Bill Dart of the off-road vehicle users’ group, BlueRibbon Coalition says, “The act was meant to be directed at smaller landscapes — when you get into the scale of millions of acres, you go beyond what was intended.”

The BlueRibbon Coalition and the Mountain States Legal Foundation originally sued in 2001. Their case was dismissed by a federal district court in November of that year, and again by an appeals court in October 2002. The groups appealed to the Supreme Court, which let the previous decisions stand (HCN, 11/25/02: Clinton-era monuments weather court challenge).

Jim Angell, an attorney for the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, hailed the ruling: “This makes clear, yet again, that presidents can use the Antiquities Act to protect unique natural objects.”

The battle isn’t over yet, though. Environmentalists say that the management plans for the new monuments, which are now being crafted, could provide skimpy protection and permit increased logging and off-road vehicle use.