Congress is scheduled to vote on a new Republican-sponsored bill (HR 1459) designed to slash the number of new national parks and monuments created each year by stripping the president's ability to designate new protected areas without Congressional approval. The bill would cut language from Antiquities Act of 1906 giving the executive power to designate parks, the clause that allowed Teddy Roosevelt to protect the Grand Canyon and Muir Woods during his second term.
Bill author Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) argues that park designations should not be made without input from Congress and the American people. The glaring problem, according to those opposed to the bill, is that the current Congress has had a poor track record of protecting wilderness areas and national preserves.
"Since 2009, Congress has passed only one bill to protect a single wilderness area," says Matt Lee-Ashley, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress told Men's Journal. "We've seen Congress grind to a halt in working to establish and protect natural parks and monuments. At the same time, this bill would undermine the president's ability to designate these areas. Combine those factors and you end up with a de facto moratorium on national parks and monuments."
The main reason the bill's supporters want to limit this presidential power is the cost involved in establishing new preserves. "There is a small group of representatives in the House who are concerned that that adding new land protections creates management costs," says Lee-Ashley. "But that's not necessarily true, because so much economic value is created through park entrance fees and other factors that the costs are recouped many times over." In fact, an Interior Department study found that the National Park System lost $414 million when congress shut down for 16 days last fall.
Others in favor of new legislation argue that there are plenty of wilderness areas already. But their capping the amount of protected space makes little sense to Lee-Ashley, who helped conduct a survey that showed that two out of every three Americans want more protections for outdoor recreation areas.
Even if this bill passes in the House, it has little chance of making it much further. The Senate will likely shoot it down and the president would almost certainly veto it if it made it that far. But the bill's proposal should be an eye-opener for the public. "Whether or not this bill becomes law, it's a concerning statement about Congress' priorities," says Lee-Ashley. "It surprises many people to learn that national parks have become a political issue. It's disconcerting to see such a breakdown in America's tradition of land preservation that goes back to Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican."