President Joe Biden will sign three proclamations restoring protections for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments, according to a fact sheet from the White House on Thursday night.
“By restoring these national monuments, which were significantly cut back during the previous administration, President Biden is fulfilling a key promise and upholding the longstanding principle that America’s national parks, monuments, and other protected areas are to be protected for all time and for all people,” the fact sheet stated. It did not specify when the signing would take place.
The Utah monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, have been on Biden’s agenda since his first day in office, when he ordered a review of their boundaries and conditions.
Members of the Biden-Harris administration, the fact sheet said, “met with Members of Congress, state and local government officials, representatives of Tribal Nations, and a wide range of stakeholders” as part of its review.
Utah Republican Gov. Spencer Cox said earlier Thursday in a critical statement that he had been informed of the decision to expand the monuments’ size by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
“The President’s decision to enlarge the monuments again is a tragic missed opportunity — it fails to provide certainty as well as the funding for law enforcement, research, and other protections which the monuments need and which only Congressional action can offer,” Cox said.
The decision marks a reversal of Trump administration policy that shrunk the Bears Ears monument, which former President Barack Obama established, by 85%, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which former President Bill Clinton designated, by roughly 45%.
The two former Democratic presidents designated the Utah monuments for protection hoping to preserve their culture, history and natural beauty. While announcing his policy in 2017, Trump slammed what he called “federal overreach” and said past administrations thought “the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They are wrong.”
Haaland – the first Native American US Cabinet secretary – visited the area in April to discuss the issue with state leaders and local tribes, many of which have ancestral ties to Bears Ears, including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
Nez issued a statement afterward calling for the protection of the Bears Ears monument. “This landscape is home to many historical and cultural sites, plants, water, traditional medicines, and teachings for our people. It also provided refuge for our people in times of conflict,” he said.
“Bears Ears is sacred and it deserves to be protected,” Nez added.
Bear Ears National Monument will be restored to 1.36 million acres and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be restored to 1.87 million acres, according to the fact sheet. Additionally, protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument off the coast of New England, as established under Obama, will be restored.
Republicans quickly criticized the decision after Cox released his statement. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said on Twitter that his state’s national monuments are being used as a “political football.”
“The decision to re-expand the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante is a devastating blow to our state, local, and tribal leaders and our delegation,” Romney said. “The President squandered the opportunity to build consensus by working with stakeholders to find a permanent, legislative solution to resolve the longstanding dispute over the monuments’ boundaries & management, which would’ve brought certainty to and benefited all stakeholders.”
Others celebrated the move Thursday night, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, a large environmental advocacy organization.
“This begins a new chapter in managing Bears Ears that respects the tribes’ traditional knowledge in caring for this living landscape. We stand proudly with the five Native American tribes—the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni—who led the long and visionary effort to protect and restore Bears Ears,” said Manish Bapna, the president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.
“Restoring the Canyons and Seamounts—an extraordinary underwater landscape full of ancient corals and sea creatures—preserves a living laboratory for scientists and will make our ocean more resilient in the face of climate change,” he continued.
This headline and story have been updated to reflect President Joe Biden will sign three proclamations restoring protections for the national monuments.