President Biden used his executive authority today to restore protections to three national monuments whose federal safeguards were significantly curtailed under the Trump Administration.
Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, which former President Trump shrunk by about 85 percent, will be restored and slightly expanded beyond its original 1.3 million acres. Grand Staircase-Escalante, also in Utah, will be restored to its original 1.8 million acres. And Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, a marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean, will have its management conditions—altered during the Trump Administration to loosen restrictions on commercial fishing—reinstated.
“I am proud to stand with President Biden in restoring these monuments and fulfilling his commitment to the American people,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a statement released yesterday. “On my visit to Utah, I had the distinct honor to speak with many people who care deeply about this land. The historical connection between Indigenous peoples and Bears Ears is undeniable. This living landscape must be protected so that all Americans have the profound opportunity to learn and cherish our history.”
Responding to the news yesterday, Patagonia released a statement in support of the decision.
“We want to thank the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition for their leadership and thank all of our friends in the Indigenous and environmental communities who have worked to protect Bears Ears National Monument,” said Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert. “We also want to thank the Biden administration, especially Secretary Haaland, for their work to restore protections for more than a million acres of sacred land.”
According to the Interior Department, President Trump’s 2017 reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments represented the largest reduction in national monument designations in U.S. history. Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, called Biden’s move to reverse that decision “righting a wrong.”
“The President’s action will ensure that our children, and our children’s children, will be able to experience the wonder, history, and beauty of these extraordinary public lands and waters as we do today,” Mallory said.
Not everyone was pleased with the decision. Utah’s congressional delegation—comprised of two Republican senators and three Republican representatives—released a joint statement yesterday saying President Biden’s actions have “fanned the flames of controversy and ignored input from the communities closest to these monuments.”
The Interior Department’s statement, however, seems to refute the idea that the administration ignored input from locals.
“To inform the report, Biden-Harris administration officials conducted Tribal consultations and met with numerous interested parties,” the statement says. These groups included Indigenous-led organizations; scientific and nonprofit organizations; small business owners; ranchers; outdoor recreation organizations; fishing industry representatives; New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils; the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission; and conservation organizations.
With today’s action, Biden becomes the 18th president to use the authority of the Antiquities Act—originally passed in 1906—to provide executive protections for cultural and natural resources in the U.S.