A seemingly innocuous little law passed in 1906 has become highly controversial in recent years. The Antiquities Act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, was a response to an escalating problem of looting of archeological and geologic resources and empowers the president to designate to significant historic, cultural, and scientific features as national monuments.
The Antiquities Act has been employed by almost every president since Roosevelt to protect historic sites and distinctive landscapes, among them iconic public lands such as Grand Canyon and Grand Teton which subsequently have been promoted by Congress into full-blown national parks. Responsible use of the Antiquities Act remains one of our nation’s most important conservation tools.
Now, the Trump administration has ordered a “review” of larger national monuments designated since 1996, to determine whether any of these should be downsized or have their designation rescinded. Moreover, some in Congress and the administration are now pushing to revise or even get rid of the Antiquities Act.
What does the Antiquities Act have to do with steelhead? Quite a bit, as it turns out, at least on the West Coast. Fishing and hunting are allowed in national monuments where these activities predate the designation. There are currently nine national monuments from California to Alaska that encompass steelhead habitat, protect the riparian zone adjacent to steelhead habitat, or protect the marine environment where steelhead are found.
Every sportsman or woman knows that good habitat is the key to fishing and hunting opportunity, and protecting intact habitat is a very high priority for Wild Steelheaders United and Trout Unlimited. For this reason we have supported a number of national monument designations made via the Antiquities Act—these designations have strengthened protections for vital steelhead and salmon resources and ensured that sporting activities will continue to be allowed in them.
The national monuments which help protect wild steelhead runs in the western U.S. are:
- Muir Woods National Monument (CA). Known for its towering redwoods, Muir Woods hosts consistent runs of steelhead and coho salmon just north of San Francisco.
- Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (CA). This monument protects the headwaters of the famed Eel River as well as tributary streams to the Sacramento River such as Putah Creek, blue ribbon trout water and spawning grounds for Chinook salmon.
- Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, California Coast National Monument (CA). This addition to the California Coastal monument encompasses the mouth, estuary, and a short stretch of the Garcia River, one of the fabled steelhead fisheries on California’s North Coast.
- San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (CA). This monument, designated in 2014, harbors the headwaters of the San Gabriel River and remnant populations of endangered southern steelhead.
- John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (OR). Protects a key reach of the John Day River, the longest undammed tributary to the Columbia River and vital migratory habitat for steelhead and salmon.
- San Juan Islands National Monument (WA). This monument encompasses dozens of islets and islands in the Salish Sea, an important corridor for steelhead migration into and out of Puget Sound.
- Aniakchak, Admiralty Island, and Misty Fjords National Monuments (AK). Misty Fjords, strung like pearls along Alaska’s fabled Inside Passage, features more than 50 streams which the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has documented as having steelhead returns. Aniakchak, on the Aleutian Peninsula, is remote and rarely visited—but offers fishing for salmon and steelhead. Admiralty Island contains 14 documented steelhead streams and almost certainly has more. The island also supports one of the densest brown bear populations in Alaska at 1 per square mile!
The sporting industry knows just how important national monuments are for fishing and hunting in this country. See here for a letter signed by more than 100 fishing and hunting business owners and sporting organizations in support of responsible use of the Antiquities Act to protect habitat and sporting opportunity.
As Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke moves forward with the “review” of national monuments, and as a few members of Congress and officials within the Trump administration push to revise or abolish the Antiquities Act, please join us in making sure that these magnificent public lands—including their steelhead habitat values—and this important conservation tool are kept intact.