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DC Insider: Responsibly enjoying AND conserving America’s public lands

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Recently, the American Motorcyclist Association started the “Public Lands Should Have a Public Voice” campaign to urge lawmakers and the president to consider local input when designating new land as a National Monument or as Wilderness.

This campaign is in response to the president’s threat to declare National Monuments in several areas that are prime off-highway-vehicle riding areas.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 (16 USC 431-432) gives the president the authority to:

“declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, 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.” (emphasis added)

The act’s original intent was to grant the president the power to prevent the looting of cultural artifacts, mostly in the Southwest. This law was the result of the realization that Congress could not act fast enough to protect archeological ruins from being looted.

Today, the law is interpreted in a far broader manner. This gives the executive branch the power to unilaterally limit OHV access on public lands with no public input whatsoever.

As a result, the AMA supported H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act. This bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

Many opponents of the proposal argue the bill is a move to prevent the creation of any new National Monuments.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The bill would simply require congressional approval for any new designation that covers more than 5,000 acres. Additionally, it would allow the president to immediately designate monuments that cover less than 5,000 acres and seek retroactive approval within three years.

This would ensure that local input from affected citizens could be heard and their concerns be addressed.

The AMA believes this change is in keeping with the original intent of the law in that the president shall attempt to confine the designation “to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” Additionally, it would put the onus on the Congress to pass bills that protect land that truly is worthy of the status of a monument. Moving the bill through Congress would require negotiation, compromise and local input, the hallmarks of a good decision-making process.

The AMA supports the creation of new Wilderness areas and new National Monuments when the intent of the laws to authorize the designation of news public lands are followed.

Throughout its more than 100 years in existence, the Antiquities Act has been used by presidents on each side of the aisle. A total of 16 presidents have used the act. The presidents not to do so were Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

The American Motorcyclist Association supports the creation of new National Monuments when the law is applied properly, namely that the land to be designated a monument “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected (16 USC 431).”

The AMA takes issue when, without public input, new National Monuments are created that adversely limit off-highway-vehicle access without the consideration of local public input.

However, the Antiquities Act provides only one way for a National Monument to be designated. Congress can also designate new areas for protection. Congress has used this power 40 times.

This is the preferred method for OHV enthusiasts – and others who use public lands for recreation – because it allows riders to contact local, state and federal elected officials to voice concerns. Additionally, the AMA believes this method encourages compromise, so all users are able to continue to benefit from public lands.

Gaining congressional approval is successful.

While Congress is currently gridlocked, on March 13, 2014, President Obama signed the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore Act. This bill protects 30,000 acres of land next to Lake Michigan. This law – initially cosponsored by a bipartisan contingent of the Michigan delegation – proves that land preservation bills can make it through a divided Congress.

There are other bills that have been introduced during this Congress that would protect more land for all users. H.R. 995, the Organ Mountains National Monument Establishment Act would protect almost 55,000 acres in Southern New Mexico. However, instead of a blanket proposal by an unelected bureaucrat, the bill allows for current recreational access to continue within the new monument.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) have introduced a bill that would protect sensitive areas in the Hermosa Creek Watershed while simultaneously creating an OHV recreation area which would protect the future of single-track trails in the San Juan National Forest.

These bills would protect and conserve the Hermosa Creek watershed for motorized and non-motorized access for future generations.

The American Motorcyclist Association will continue to oppose the creation of large and unnecessary National Monuments that unfairly restrict OHV access. However, we will continue to support the development of conservation areas that protect the cultural, social and economic resources that distinguish some of America’s public lands while still providing for access so American can enjoy those lands.

The AMA understands that our nation’s public lands are a treasured resource that must be preserved. We have taken steps – such as supporting the Recreational Trails Program – to ensure trails are built and maintained properly.

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