The government is us; we are the government, you and I. -Theodore Roosevelt

Monumental Conservation – B&C Impact Series

By PJ DelHomme 

Boone and Crockett Club members worked passionately to pass legislation in 1906 that would protect sites of cultural and scientific interest, such as Grand Canyon and Olympic National Park. They were called national monuments. Today, members of the Club remain at the forefront of monument policy. 

Devil's Tower in northeast Wyoming was the nation's first national monument, established by President Roosevelt in 1906. 

In the late 1800s, a rumor was floating around Denver that the ruins of a forgotten civilization were perched among the cliffs of southwest Colorado. Gustaf Nordenskiöld, a Swedish researcher, heard these stories that had been circulating ever since the Hayden Survey first reported seeing the ruins in the 1870s. In 1891, he traveled south to see for himself. 

Once Gustaf found the remains of the Puebloan civilization, he documented tools, pottery, and human remains. He then boxed them up and shipped them to Europe, where some remains and artifacts landed at the Museum of Cultures in Helsinki, Finland. When word spread that a foreigner was “stealing” from the American looters and grave robbers in the area, Gustaf was arrested at the train station. He was eventually released because, technically, he wasn’t breaking any laws. Gustaf may have been looting in the name of science but looting nonetheless. He was a small player in what had become a huge industry of pillaging Native American cultural sites and burial grounds. The incident made international news, and it was one of many sparks that ignited legislation that provided some of the first legal protection of cultural and natural resources of historic or scientific interest on federal lands.

In August 2023, President Biden designated nearly one million acres near Grand Canyon National Park as a national monument. 

That legislation was the Antiquities Act, signed into law in 1906 by Boone and Crockett Club co-founder and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Since then, the law has been used to designate 130 national monuments by 18 U.S. presidents. Congress has chosen to turn many of those monuments into national parks like Grand Canyon and Arches. Members of the Boone and Crockett Club were integral to writing the Antiquities Act, and today, Club members are actively engaged in managing these unique places. 

Looters and Grave Robbers 

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the American West was full of natural resources ripe for development. Market hunters decimated bison herds, sawmills coveted virgin old-growth forests, industrious railroad magnates eyeballed tourist attractions like Yellowstone, and miners hoped to strike the motherlode. And there was a robust market for Native American cultural artifacts and handicrafts. 

At the time, the Boone and Crockett Club was a young but energetic organization. Its members faced those conservation challenges head-on. And having the Club’s co-founder, Theodore Roosevelt, serving as president of the United States certainly didn’t hurt the Club’s conservation efforts. John F. Lacey, the eight-term Republican Congressman and Club member from Iowa, had President Roosevelt's ear, which was a good thing for conservation. 

Astute hunters know the Lacey name because of the Lacey Act of 1900, which put an end to market hunting. As chair of the House Committee on Public Lands, Lacey used his powers of political persuasion to push through another monumental law. This time his legislation was aimed at putting an end to the plunder and looting of prehistoric Native American ruins in the Southwest following the Civil War. 

The Antiquities Act 

In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act (Lacey’s legislation) with little opposition. The new law obligated federal land-managing agencies to carry out measures to protect archeological and historical sites on public land by implementing a permitting process. Even though the legislation gave power to the authorities to prosecute looters, the practice still occurs. Today, legislation like the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act adds additional protections to Native American remains and artifacts.

The Antiquities Act also gave the president the power to protect key areas of historical and archeological importance and set aside places that were simply awe-inspiring—without Congressional approval. These places would be called national monuments, and President Roosevelt was happy to set them aside. “The law quickly became an opportunity for Roosevelt to save other places that appealed to his aesthetic sensibilities,” wrote John F. Reiger in American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation. He added that President Roosevelt applied “the ‘object of scientific interest’ clause of the Antiquities Act in the broadest possible fashion…”

Gustaf Nordenskiöld seems rather upset that he didn't get to keep everything that he looted from Mesa Verde in southern Colorado. 

President Roosevelt set aside 18 national monuments, including many that became national parks, such as Crater Lake, Grand Canyon, Zion, Olympic, and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Somewhat ironically, just 22 days after President Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, he signed a bill creating Mesa Verde National Park after it was passed by the House and Senate. Mesa Verde was the same area where Gustaf Nordenskiöld caused the initial uproar in the 1890s. 

Modern-day Monuments 

After President Roosevelt's surge of monument designations, other Boone and Club members worked to designate and safeguard other areas of “scientific interest.” Club meeting records from 1956 note that Club member Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. worked to secure protection for Dinosaur National Monument—one of the first monuments where our ongoing ability to hunt would be called into question.

Whether or not a national monument is open to hunting depends on the managing agency. The land management agencies, including the National Park Service (NPS), the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, are tasked with writing new management plans each time a monument is proclaimed, though some agencies tend to be more amicable to hunting than others.

The NPS manages more than 80 monuments, from the Statue of Liberty to Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. Generally speaking, the NPS does not allow hunting on the land it administers in the lower 48. 

National monuments run the landmark gamut, from petroglyphs at Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado to the Statue of Libery in New York City. 

However, in places like the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, hunters lucky enough to draw an elk tag can hunt massive bulls. This unique landscape in central Montana is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which manages 29 national monuments across the western U.S. and Alaska. In early August 2023, President Biden designated the Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument (Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni), nearly one million acres in three separate areas north and south of the Grand Canyon. Administered by the U.S. Forest Service, this monument allows hunting, fishing, hiking, and other recreational activities but prohibits new uranium mining operations in the area. 

As you might imagine, national monuments have their detractors. When the Antiquities Act was passed, time was of the essence to save Native American artifacts and ruins. The authorities needed laws to deter looters. But the Antiquities Act also gives the president a hefty wand to wave over public land and designate vast areas as national monuments. 

Local residents and industry sometimes voice opposition. Cattle ranchers who graze their cattle on public land are worried their cows will get kicked off newly designated monument lands. Mining companies cannot prospect, and local communities worry that monuments will hurt their local economies. Generally speaking, with the exception of existing operations, new extractive activities cannot occur on a monument. As for local economies, a research paper published in 2020 found that local economies won’t go bankrupt. “We find that monuments increased the average number of establishments and jobs in areas near monuments; increased the average establishment growth rate; had no effect, positive or negative, on the number of jobs in establishments that existed pre-designation; and had no effect on mining and other industries that use public land,” stated the study. “On net, protecting lands as national monuments has been more help than a hindrance to local economies in the American West.”

For its part, the Club’s main objective is to safeguard hunting access to national monuments. The Castle Mountains National Monument in southeast California is one example of how hunters can lose opportunity on national monuments. During his two terms, President Obama designated a record 26 national monuments, totaling 88.3 million acres. He also added 465.2 million acres to existing monuments. In the case of the Castle Mountains, President Obama’s proclamation eliminated hunting—including hunting of game birds, rabbits, mule deer, and desert bighorn sheep—on nearly 21,000 acres of public land formerly managed by the BLM. The Club and its partners, notably the Wild Sheep Foundation, have recommended the Castle Mountains National Monument be reopened for hunting and are working in Washington, D.C. to that end. 

Hunting in Castle Mountains National Monument in California was recently eliminated, but the Club and its partners are working to change that. 

As for Gustaf and the hundreds of Native American funeral objects and remains he sent back to Finland, many of those items were returned to descendant tribes of the Puebloan people in 2019. “In Native American culture, when the human remains of their ancestors are unearthed and sent off to a museum or lab, that person’s spirit becomes trapped on this earth, unable to take the next step into the afterlife,” stated an article in The Journal. The politics and history surrounding national monument management are as rich and varied as they are controversial. Rest assured, the Boone and Crockett Club will continue to stay involved in the issue—just as it has since 1906. 

About the Impact Series

The Impact Series is dedicated to showing how sportsmen, members of the Boone and Crockett Club in particular, saved the wildlife and wild places of the United States. Early members of the Boone and Crockett Club comprised the movers, shakers, and initiators of the American conservation movement. They were hunters, anglers, explorers, lawmakers, soldiers, and above all conservationists. These members established laws that allowed our wildlife resources to flourish. They also protected landscape-scale geologic marvels and American icons like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Denali, and many, many more. These members may no longer be with us, but their legacy remains. This series aims to honor their accomplishments and remind us of the good work still yet to do.

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal.  


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt