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JACKSON - Today is the 100th anniversary of a law that allowed for designation of Devils Tower as a national monument and led the way for the creation of Grand Teton National Park.

But it's a birthday Wyoming won't celebrate.

Wyoming is the only state in the country not covered by the so-called Antiquities Act, established on June 8, 1906. It's an ironic twist in the state where the act was first used - by President Theodore Roosevelt in the designation of Devils Tower National Monument in 1906.

The law gives the president authority to protect lands without approval of Congress.

In 1950, when Grand Teton National Park was created, lawmakers and President Truman agreed - in a compromise to placate Wyoming officials - that the state would be exempt from the act. The lands in northwest Wyoming were previously deemed Jackson Hole National Monument by President Franklin Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act, preserving the land that would later become part of the park.

That 1950 agreement was appropriate, said U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo. Designation of protected places should be reviewed by Congress and with public input, he said.

"I always ask myself, 'What is so unique and special that would cause most folks to say that this area is worthy of designation?"' he said Wednesday. "Then we review the outcome of the study and go through the process of passing a law. It's a really good way to ensure the integrity of our special places."

But Tim Young, associate regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the Antiquities Act is an important power presidents have to take immediate action to protect areas.

"We have nationally significant resources that are under pressure from many things, and this provides a tool to protect those before those can be lost for future generations, and you can respond rapidly if there is a particular environmental threat," he said.

Still, Young said there is a balance between the executive power and legislative branch, as Congress has the ultimate authority to fund a monument or create a national park.

"The Antiquities Act has been exercised quite sparingly, and Congress still has to validate those decisions if they are going to become national parks," he said.

That push and pull came to a head in the latter years of the Clinton administration, when President Clinton used the Antiquities Act to create a slew of national monuments in Utah.

Some lawmakers, including the Wyoming congressional delegation, balked, saying the act gives too much power to the president, usurps power from states and eliminates public process.

Thomas said at the time he would draft a bill opposing the Antiquities Act.

"I was very concerned during the Clinton administration that monuments were being established willy-nilly, with no public input. If it's a good idea, it will still be a good idea after the public gets a good look at it, and Congress gets a chance to weigh its merits and its costs," Thomas said Wednesday.

In 1997, the U.S. House approved a bill that would restrict the president's ability to use the Antiquities Act, and said it would require congressional approval for any national monument designation greater than 50,000 acres within two years of the designation. It did not receive Senate approval.

Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., voted for the bill at the time, even though she acknowledged that it wouldn't affect Wyoming.

Although the presidential decree authority of the Antiquities Act doesn't apply to Wyoming, national monuments still can be created through congressional action. The last monument created was Fossil Butte near Kemmerer in 1974.

Fourteen presidents have used the Antiquities Act to establish nearly 130 national monuments, many of which have become part of the national park system.

The act has protected areas around Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. Additional areas protected by the Antiquities Act in Wyoming include Shoshone Cavern near Cody and Fort Laramie.

President Bush designated the African Burial Ground in New York City a national monument in February - his first and only use of the Antiquities Act.

Several presidents, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, did not establish any monuments under the act. However, national monuments were designated during their administrations by acts of Congress, including the Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming.

Environmental reporter Whitney Royster can be reached at (307) 734-0260 or at


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