National Monuments

Over the decades, Congress has played a major role in what national monuments were created, changed and, in some cases, revoked but this important role has largely fallen into disuse. While Congress has abolished presidentially-created monuments, no president ever has and, unlike with Congress, it is a wide open legal question whether he can.

Congress’ past robust involvement is reflected by the fact that –

  • Nearly one-third (27 of 83) of the extant national monuments inside the National Park System were created by acts of Congress, rather than by a presidential proclamation;
  • Nor has Congress shied away from creating large national monuments, such as El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico which covers 114,276 acres of varied landscapes;

El Malpais

El Malpais NM


  • Besides park system national monuments, Congress created at least one BLM-administered national monument, Prehistoric Trackways in New Mexico. Congress also created four Forest Service national monuments: Misty Fjords and Admiralty Island in Alaska, Mt. St. Helen's in Washington, and Newberry Crater in Oregon; 
  • Congress has abolished several national monuments created by presidential proclamations, including Fossil Cycad (SD, 1956), Lewis and Clark Cavern (MT, 1937), Papago Saguaro (AZ, 1930), Shoshone Cavern (MT, 1954) and Verendrye (ND, 1956); and
  • Congress abolished another 52 national monuments by incorporating their land into National Parks, National Historical Parks, National Preserves or other units.

In contrast to this well-established role, a recent Congressional Research Service legal memo (“Antiquities Act: Scope of Authority for Modification of National Monuments” November 14, 2016) concludes that

“No President has ever abolished or revoked a national monument proclamation, so the existence or scope of any such authority has not been tested in courts. However, some legal analyses since at least the 1930s have concluded that the Antiquities Act, by its terms, does not authorize the President to repeal proclamations, and that the President also lacks implied authority to do so.”

Even if a presidential proclamation is rescinded, it is unclear whether the presidential withdrawal of these lands from drilling and mining remains in effect.

On this page:

See details about Monuments and the Park System; and

Look at the answers to 13 FAQs about National Monuments