Over the years, 17 presidents have designated more than 150 national monuments, including Arizona’s iconic Ironwood Forest National Monument using the Antiquities Act. The 130-thousand-acre desert preserve just outside Tucson serves as a biological anchor point for conserving rare plants and animals.
June marked the 115th anniversary of the Antiquities Act, a brief but powerful piece of legislation passed in 1906. It allows presidents to preserve federal lands and cultural and historical sites.
More than 150 national monuments have been designated using the act, including Arizona’s Ironwood Forest National Monument.
Tom Hannagan with the group Friends of the Ironwood Forest said President Bill Clinton gave the area protected status in 2000.
"So, it’s nowhere near the largest national monument or national parks, but the concentration of diverse mountains and diverse species in this area just made it very attractive for permanent protection," he said.
Hannagan said the monument protects Arizona’s last remaining population of Desert Bighorn Sheep, while stands of ironwood, mesquite, palo verde, creosote and Saguaro cacti blanket the valley floor beneath several mountain ranges.
"It's open to a variety of different recreational uses – hiking and camping and bird watching, horse riding, photography. Hunting is allowed within seasons," hes said. "It's just that further development of roads, mining, things like that, are stopped."
Hannagan said a big part of preserving the monument is simply letting people know that it's there.
He added with political battles brewing over public lands in some states, that mission is especially important to Friends of Ironwood Forest. He pointed out the Antiquities Act allows presidents to both create and remove national monuments with the stroke of a pen.