President Biden will take action tomorrow to restore protections to three national monuments that had been dismantled by the previous administration. The new proclamations will reestablish the boundaries in place before President Trump’s unprecedented action to drastically reduce the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, and restore management conditions to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.
“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. “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; our Native American ancestors sustained themselves on the landscape since time immemorial and evidence of their rich lives is everywhere one looks. This living landscape must be protected so that all Americans have the profound opportunity to learn and cherish our history.”
“Fully restoring the protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument underscores the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to conservation,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “The rich diversity of species in the monument include rare and endangered marine life-from deep-sea corals and fish, to whales and sea turtles-that continue to be threatened by the climate crisis. With this proclamation we acknowledge the importance to protecting their ongoing contributions to scientific knowledge, ecosystem health, and the sustainability of our planet.”
“The Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah conserves one of most significant cultural landscapes in the United States, with thousands of archaeological sites and important areas of spiritual significance to Native American people in the region,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We look forward to working with Tribal Nations, local communities, the State and others in Utah to protect and manage these lands for future generations.”
“By acting to right a wrong, the President is reaffirming the proud American promise that our parks and monuments are to be protected for all people and for all time,” said Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Brenda Mallory. “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.”
“Conserving America’s national treasures plays an integral role in the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-government approach to tackling the climate crisis and sustaining the health of our communities,” said National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy. “For generations to come, American’s will now be able to experience the natural beauty and cultural heritage of these treasured landscapes.”
President Trump’s actions in 2017 to modify the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments amounted to an unprecedented rollback of conservation protections for America’s lands and waters, constituting the largest reductions in the size of national monument designations in U.S. history. His action to revoke the prohibition on commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in 2020 was likewise unprecedented. Multiple pending lawsuits challenging President Trump’s modifications to the three national monuments have raised serious and fundamental questions as to whether a President has authority to reduce boundaries or core protections in a way that is tantamount to revocation of a monument.
President Biden becomes the 18th President to exercise his authority under the Antiquities Act since the law was passed in 1906. Since President Roosevelt designated Devil’s Tower National Monument-the first national monument-in 1906, both Republican and Democratic presidents have designated 158 national monuments to protect objects of historic and scientific interest on America’s federal lands and waters. Designations range from the Statue of Liberty and the Stonewall National Monument in New York, to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands archipelago, to the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico.
Tomorrow’s action fulfills President Biden’s commitment on Day One to conserve national treasures and monuments. Executive Order 13990 directed the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Departments of Justice, Commerce, and Agriculture, and the Council on Environmental Quality, as to whether restoration of the monument boundaries and conditions that existed as of January 20, 2017, would be appropriate. To inform the report, Biden-Harris administration officials conducted Tribal consultations and met with numerous interested parties, including: 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 and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission; and conservation organizations. Secretary Haaland also traveled to Utah in April to meet with elected officials, Tribal leaders, and stakeholders invested in the management of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
Bears Ears National Monument is the first national monument designated at the request of Tribal Nations. In 2016, President Obama established the approximately 1.35 million-acre national monument in Utah, managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, reflecting decades of efforts from Tribal Nations, local communities, and members of Congress to protect the area.
At the end of 2017, President Trump issued a proclamation that reduced the national monument by 1.15 million acres, or nearly 85 percent. The revised boundaries included 12,000 acres of land that were not contained within the original monument. The action was immediately challenged in court by the five Tribes that originally sought the national monument designation and other organizations, which argued that the President lacked authority to strip lands and historic and scientific objects designated for protection from a national monument.
Tomorrow’s action restores the original boundaries of the national monument and retains the 12,000 acres added by President Trump, which contain objects of historic and scientific significance. It also restores the membership and conditions of the Bears Ears Commission, composed of Tribal representatives, to provide guidance and recommendations on management of the monument.
The Bears Ears National Monument is characterized by deep sandstone canyons, broad desert mesas, towering monoliths, forested mountaintops dotted with lush meadows, and the striking Bears Ears Buttes. The area has a tradition of ranching and provides world class outdoor recreation opportunities that drive a growing travel and tourism economy.
One of the richest cultural landscapes in the United States, it has supported Indigenous people of the Southwest from time immemorial and continues to be sacred land to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray
Reservation, Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and many other Tribal Nations and Pueblos. The lands include countless petroglyphs, pictographs, cultural sites, cliff dwellings, and areas used for traditional rituals, gatherings, and Tribal practices. The plants and animals in Bears Ears have been a critical part of life for Tribal members who gather roots, berries, firewood, piñon nuts, weaving materials, and medicines across these sacred lands.
In 1996, President Clinton established Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. On three separate occasions, Congress legislated to adjust the acreage of lands reserved within the monument boundary, ultimately increasing it by more than 180,000 acres in aggregate- including ratifying a land exchange with the State of Utah- bringing the total size of the monument to approximately 1.87 million acres.
In 2017, President Trump issued a proclamation that reduced the national monument by nearly half, or more than 860,000 acres. The action was immediately challenged in court by a coalition of paleontologists and conservation organizations, arguing that the President lacked authority to strip lands and historic and scientific objects designated for protection from a national monument. Tomorrow’s action restores the boundaries of the national monument that were in place in January 2017.
In the 25 years since its designation, Grand Staircase-Escalante has embodied the vision of an outdoor laboratory with great potential for diverse and significant scientific discoveries. Hundreds of scientific studies and projects have been conducted within the monument, including discovering many previously-unknown species of dinosaurs. It is home to innumerable individual fossils, archaeological sites, and rare species, including more than 600 species of bees – some of which likely exist nowhere else on Earth.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante landscape is a geologic treasure characterized by bold plateaus, multihued cliffs, and narrow slot canyons. It was the last place in the contiguous United States to be mapped and is one of the most naturally dark outdoor spaces left in America. It has a rich human history, spanning from the indigenous people and cultures to Anglo-American explorers and early Latter-day Saint pioneers.
In 2016, President Obama established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to be jointly managed by the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The proclamation reserved approximately 4,913 square miles in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and prohibited harmful activities, including injuring or disturbing monument resources, drilling or dredging, and commercial fishing within the monument’s boundaries- with a phase-out period for American lobster and red crab fisheries- to protect the resources therein.
President Trump lifted the prohibition on commercial fishing in the monument in 2020, an action that conservation groups have argued in court that a President does not have that authority to take. The previous administration’s action removed important protections that were designed to ensure that this monument would benefit current and future generations. Tomorrow’s action restores the management conditions of the national monument established by President Obama.
The monument protects a rich diversity of deep-sea corals, endangered whales, endangered and threatened sea turtles, and numerous fish and invertebrate species. The monument is composed of the Canyons Unit and the Seamounts Unit, each of which anchor vulnerable and unique ecological communities threatened by varied uses, climate change, and related impacts.
The larger Seamounts Unit includes four extinct undersea volcanoes, part of a chain that runs midway across the western Atlantic Ocean. The seamounts are “biological islands” that are home to many rare and endemic species that are not known to live anywhere else on Earth. The Canyons Unit includes three undersea canyons that cut deep into the continental shelf, ranging from 200 meters to thousands of meters deep. Together, the units support one of the Atlantic Ocean’s most biologically productive and important marine environments, and one of science’s greatest oceanic laboratories.