In a blog published Wednesday on azcentral.com, “Gosar: No more presidential monuments,” columnist Linda Valdez implied that I was against all land monument designations. This could not be further from the truth.
Currently, only about 18 percent of the land in Arizona is privately held. The overwhelming majority of land is owned by state and federal governments, including municipalities, counties and tribes. Where land is locked up by the government, the government controls all aspects of use, development and access.
In rural Arizona, where in some counties more than 90 percent of the land is government owned, local school districts and businesses suffer, having no private land base to grow or tax to support infrastructure.
I sponsored the Arizona Land Sovereignty Act, H.R. 1495, because the decision to set aside large tracts of land should be made with public input, with transparency and the cooperation of stakeholders.
Right now, the President of the United States can, with the stroke of a pen, and without consulting the public or public representatives, lock up millions of acres of land. This unbridled power — and land — grab is contrary to our democratic values and good government.
We do not live in a dictatorship where one person can decide the fate of millions of acres of land, yet that is exactly what has been done. U.S. Rep. Raul Grivalja, a strong supporter of Big Government and opponent of the private sector, supports the unilateral authority to strip land away from the people. I simply disagree with that.
I believe the people should have a say in what happens to the land in their own state. My bill allows Congress, and therefore the people, to have a say in the process. It does not stop the process. It just makes sure the people have a say.
The federal government’s ability to set aside land for monuments and national parks comes from the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was originally intended to protect prehistoric Indian ruins and artifacts on federal lands in the West.
More than one hundred years later, the original purpose of this bill has been abused; more than 130 million acres and more than 100 national monuments now exist.
Too often when a president unilaterally seizes land under the Antiquities Act, the action is seen as being justifiable in the name of preserving space for monument creation. For every American landmark that the public can picture, there remains millions of acres of seized lands that are unseen and underutilized.
For every acre of land declared public, there is an acre of private land lost. It is the unseen loss of access, the never plowed farm, or the forfeited forest-thinning job that is the true cost of declaring land public.
A need to weigh the costs and benefits of every acre slated for public use is too great a responsibility to entrust to the Executive Branch. This responsibility alone rests within Congress and the people.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar is a Republican from Arizona's Fourth Congressional District and a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.