The Antiquities Act has been used by every president except Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush to protect swaths of the American landscape, many of them now cherished around the world.
Now debate is swirling around the possible designation of the Boulder-White Clouds region of Central Idaho. Not surprisingly, arguments rage on the merits of such a designation, and fears abound, both merited and unmerited.
The first thing that I will do is deal with obvious concerns. All four national land management bureaus manage national monuments. The president has the authority to designate the management agency; in this case it will certainly be the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Concerns about National Park Service management are unwarranted.
Second, only Congress can create legal wilderness, and the Antiquities Act does not allow for presidential action on that front.
Third, it would be relatively easy to have a sentence in any national monument proclamation read something along the lines of this proclamation does not affect any provision of Public Law 92-400 (the act that created the Sawtooth National Recreation Area).
Now for some ideas that might bring about agreement that a monument proclamation is the right way to proceed.
First, the proclamation should leave the details of on-the-ground decisions (possible road and trail closures, redesignations, even the directions for a management plan) to a group charted by the proclamation. The group should represent all affected interests, tribes included, and be appointed jointly by the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture and the governor of Idaho.
Collaborative decision making may not always be the answer, but it has begun to work in Idaho, so why not try it here? The Forest Service and BLM must be directed to follow the recommendations of this group, and be empowered to interact with it closely.
If the group cannot come to an agreement by a certain time, then the two federal agencies would be empowered to act themselves.
Second, the Forest Service should be directed to treat the SNRA and its section of the national monument as equivalent to a national forest. The manager of those areas should have the same status as a forest supervisor; a number of individuals both within and outside of USFS have been making this case for years.
Third, BLM has created, with congressional approval, its National Landscape Conservation System and will most likely incorporate its part of the Boulder-White Clouds into that system. Although not perfect, BLM has had some success developing policies to keep developed recreation outside of its national monuments; the Forest Service would likely act the same way. The proclamation could also make this clear.
Fourth, the proclamation must prioritize the values that are the reason for the proclamation. The SNRA stated those values as natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values, and these values ought be mapped onto the tasks assigned the collaborative group above.
As for concerns that this will bring people into the area, I doubt that that will be the case. Indeed, the bigger concern these days, from former governor and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to former Craters of the Moon Superintendent and now National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, is that young people are not very interested in the outdoors. That is something to worry about.
John Freemuth, of Boise, is a professor of Public Policy, former chair, Bureau of Land Management Science Advisory Board, former seasonal national park ranger and advisor, National Museum of Forest Service History.