CANYON POINT, Utah
President Joe Biden will restore two national monuments in Utah that have been the center of a public lands dispute.
The Biden administration on Thursday announced it would expand the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and a marine monument off the New England coast, all drastically reduced by former President Donald Trump.
“As part of the Biden-Harris administration’s effort to better protect, conserve, and restore the lands and waters that sustain the health of communities and power our economy,” said Vedant Patel, a White House spokesperson, “tomorrow (Oct. 8), President Biden will sign three proclamations restoring protections for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts (Marine) National Monument.”
An elated Davis Filfred, the board chair for Utah Diné Bikéyah, said this announcement is a long time coming and hopes this is the end of the political ping-pong – used as a quick fix under the Antiquities Act – and the beginning of restoration between people who remain divided on monument designations.
Filfred said he’s on his way to Washington, D.C., to attend the signing ceremony. But the fight continues, said Mark Maryboy, board member for UDB.
“I’ve been waiting, waiting, and waiting for the news,” Maryboy said. “And I am extremely happy and elated to know that (Bears Ears) has been restored.
“The (fight) will continue because the opposition are talking about a lawsuit,” Maryboy said, “It’s going to be extremely difficult to undo because we’re talking about the (1906) Antiquities Act, and that belongs to everybody in America.”
The Antiquities Act permits presidents to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest” on federal land without input from Congress.
Maryboy said there will be a celebration for Bears Ears (Shash Jaa’) at a Radisson hotel in Salt Lake City and at Muley Point north of Mexican Hat, Utah, tomorrow.
Maryboy said he’s committed to retiring and resigning from some of the environmental boards and committees he serves.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished what I needed to do,” Maryboy added.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, expressed disappointment in Biden’s decision to the two Utah national monuments.
“The president’s decision to enlarge the monuments again is a tragic missed opportunity,” Cox said in a statement, “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.”
Both monuments were created by Democratic presidents and totaled more than 3 million acres. Trump’s actions sharply reduced their size by some two million acres, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.
Trump slashed Shash Jaa’ by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante to about half its current size, arguing that the previous administrations had abused their authorities.
Biden’s order will enlarge Bears Ears.
A statement to the Times from the White House read: “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.”
“Wonderful news!” Maryboy exclaimed.
In June, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who visited the two Utah monuments, advised Biden to restore the original boundaries of the monuments.
“I am proud to stand with President Biden in restoring these monuments and fulfilling his commitment to the American people,” Haaland said in a statement to the Times. “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.”
Haaland was welcomed home to Shash Jaa’ during her visit to the region.
President Jonathan Nez Thursday night said his administration is excited that action would be taken by the Biden-Harris administration with the guidance of Haaland and the coalition of tribes and other stakeholders.
“The protection of Bears Ears has been fought for by many tribal nations for many years,” Nez told the Times. “We fully support the expansion of Bears Ears. It’s a win for our people, our ancestors, and generations to come.”