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A Year 2000 Chance to Protect Some Natural Treasures

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We are urging President Clinton to use the Antiquities Act to protect the spectacular coastal plain

Which natural treasure is next on President Clinton's list? Now that he has used his powers under the Antiquities Act to protect three western landscapes and expand a national park area in California, conservationists are marshaling facts to convince the White House that a number of other outstanding places deserve similar protection before Clinton leaves office.

"The possibilities have really got our hearts beating," says Wilderness Society President William H. Meadows, who was at the rim of the Grand Canyon in January as Clinton signed a proclamation establishing the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. Topping our list is the incomparable coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. "Surveys consistently show that Americans object to the idea of oil drilling in this sanctuary, but a handful of committee chairmen in Congress refuse to give up on development there," notes Meadows. "This is a perfect example of what the Antiquities Act was designed to deal with."

The Antiquities Act empowers the president to protect "objects of historic and scientific interest..." when Congress is slow to act. It was first used by Theodore Roosevelt, who designated the Grand Canyon a national monument in 1908. Eleven years later, Congress made it a national park. Fourteen of the 17 presidents who have served since 1906 have used the Antiquities Act.

"There are a number of places we believe are great candidates," says Rindy O'Brien, The Society's Vice President for Public Policy. "In Montana, the scenic Missouri Braks takes in 149 miles along the river that looks much as it did when Lewis and Clark went through. Oregon's Steens Mountain and Soda Mountain and the Owyhee Canyonlands in Idaho belong on the short list, too. These areas belong to the American people," notes O'Brien, "So opponents are off base when they claim that such actions are 'land grabs.'"

Those critics hope to stall the president's national monument train by passing a bill weakening the Antiquities Act. The House approved such legislation in September,and the issue is now before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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