Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Applauds President Biden’s Restoration of National Monuments
Action restores boundaries and management conditions of Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monuments
08 October 2021, Washington: President Biden will take action to restore protections to three national monuments that had been dismantled by the previous administration. The President will sign the new proclamations to 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.
“The Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah conserves one of the 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.
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 in New York, to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands archipelago, to the Stonewall National Monument in New York City, to Río Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico.
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The 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
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.
The 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.