The North Woods saga has reached the end that Roxanne Quimby had hoped for. Despite persistent protest from Mainers, the controversial businesswoman has officially transferred her land deeds for 87,000 acres of land to the federal government. President Barack Obama has also officially made North Woods a National Monument.
Why a National Monument, instead of a national park however? Short answer, it’s because of how each land is legally designated. National Parks are protected by an act of Congress and signed by the President, but under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the President can designate land as a national monument.
The Antiquities Act’s original intent was to protect decaying ruins of Native Americans, sites that either are ruins themselves or have significant historical artifacts on them. Iowa Congressman John F. Lacey, who served in the House of Representatives from 1889-1891 and 1893-1907, was a prominent conservationist in his legislative career. After touring touring the Southwest with Edgar Lee Hewett, a famous antropologist and archaeologist, he observed a lot of damage to historically significant areas. The Antiquities Act was the response.
Now with anything else that Congress or the President does, there is always debate regarding use. With the national monument designation under the Antiquities Act, Presidents overtime have shifted use to cover more than just ruins and artifacts from looting. Such is the case here in Maine.
Given that Congress has originally granted the power, there have been instances when the legislative body has felt as if boundaries had been crossed. As a result, Congress intervened to limit the power of the President under the Antiquities Act.
The first was in 1943, when Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Jackson Hole National Monument. What transpired here is similar to what is occurring in Maine now. A wealthy businessperson liked the land and started buying it up with the goal to turn it over to the federal government. In this case, it was John D. Rockefeller Jr. who started buying up the area through the Snake River Land Company.
Due to strong protest by Wyoming citizens and legislators, Congress prevented the expansion of the Grand Teton National Park. Out of frustration over the process, Rockefeller informed the federal government he was considering selling to another property. As a result, President Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to designate Jackson Hole as a national monument.
Congress later would merge Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson Hole area, but in the process amended the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval for expanding national parks in Wyoming.
The federal government also met strong resistance when President Jimmy Carter sought to designate fifty-six million acres in Alaska. After President Carter used the Antiquities Act and blamed Congress for their inaction, Congress would officially pass legislation designating the land as a national park. With that said, it also required any future designations in Alaska exceeding 5,000 acres to get approval from Congress.
The Antiquities Act was created with the original aim of protecting ruins and artifacts in their original location, ensuring that they would not be disturbed by looters and hunters. Past challenges uses of the legislation by Presidents have met significant resistance, including one issue that mirrored our own here in Maine.
This is a unique moment in history with President Obama using the Antiquities Act to declare North Woods a National Monument. Given what has happened in some instances in the past, such as in Wyoming and Alaska, one must wonder if this is the end of the North Woods saga.