Interior to White House: Restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante

President ordered secretary to review monuments' status in day one executive order.

Photo: John Fowler

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The Interior Department has recommended that President Biden restore protections to three national monuments slashed by the Trump administration, including Bears Ears National Monument.

In addition to Bears Ears, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recommended that the president re-establish protections for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. According to the Washington Post, which first reported the story, Haaland made the recommendations in a private report to the White House earlier this month.

Bears Ears, located in the canyon country of southeast Utah, has long been a flashpoint between conservationists, the outdoor industry, and local tribal governments on one side and mining and ranching interests and their allies in state government on the other. Former President Barack Obama designated the monument, which originally protected 1.35 million acres of red rock canyons, rock art, and Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and burial grounds, by executive order in December 2016. The designation followed a request from five local Native nations: the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, Hopi Tribe, and Uinta and Ouray Ute Indian Tribe.

Read More: A Timeline of the Bears Ears National Monument Fight

The backlash from state and local politicians was immediate and fierce, and in December 2017, former President Donald Trump announced plans to shrink the monument by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 46%. Later reporting by the New York Times suggested that the new boundaries for the monuments had been drawn in conversation with fossil fuel and mining interests. In a day-one executive order, Biden instructed the incoming Interior Secretary to investigate whether the administration should restore the monuments’ boundaries.

Grand Staircase-Escalante, created in 1996 by former President Bill Clinton, has faced similar pushback. Obama designated Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, the first monument of its kind in the Atlantic Ocean, in September 2016.

Neither the Department of the Interior nor the White House have commented on the Washington Post’s report. In a press release, Utah’s congressional delegation, which unanimously opposed the monuments’ creation, urged Biden to publicly release Haaland’s report and meet with them before making his final decision, and renewed their call to make any changes to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante via an act of Congress rather than an executive order.

Advocates of the monument, in contrast, have celebrated the secretary’s recommendation. The Wilderness Society, which is challenging the Trump administration’s authority to shrink the monuments in court, said restoring the monuments would be “an encouraging step forward” and urged the Biden administration to go further and expand Bears Ears’ boundaries to cover the original, larger area proposed by the five tribes in 2015.


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