Biden Protects National Monument Areas the Former Administration Tried to Dismantle
WASHINGTON – President Biden will sign proclamations today that will begin restoring protections to two treasured national monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, along with a spectacular marine monument off the coast of New England, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. His orders return these three monuments to their pre-Trump protections, in effect reversing the former administration’s attempts to throw open these areas to for-profit interests pursuing extractive uses such as uranium mining or commercial fishing.
The following is a statement by Manish Bapna, President and CEO of NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council):
“President Biden is restoring faith to millions of people across the country who stood up for these national treasures and opposed Trump’s illegal rollbacks.
“This begins a new chapter in managing Bears Ears that respects the tribes’ traditional knowledge in caring for this living landscape. We stand proudly with the five Native American tribes—the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni—who led the long and visionary effort to protect and restore Bears Ears.
“Restoring the Canyons and Seamounts—an extraordinary underwater landscape full of ancient corals and sea creatures—preserves a living laboratory for scientists and will make our ocean more resilient in the face of climate change.
“The Antiquities Act exists to protect unique places like these for all time. No President has the power to abolish those protections with the stroke of a pen. This is a victory for science, for future generations, and for anyone who looks to these special places for solace, education, healing, and inspiration.”
The Trump administration tried to dismantle three national monuments created under the Antiquities Act of 1906. If those unlawful rollbacks had succeeded, it would have threatened the integrity of all national monuments, which are meant to provide permanent protection to irreplaceable resources on federally controlled lands and waters. The Act authorizes a president only to create national monuments; the power to revoke or reduce an existing monument belongs to Congress alone.
President Trump’s attempt to dismantle the Utah monuments in 2017 was the largest rollback of public lands protections in American history. He removed nearly two million acres of federal public lands from the boundaries of the two monuments in southern Utah and opened up the lands to uranium and hardrock mining, oil and gas leasing, and other extractive uses. Native American tribes, NRDC, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), a coalition of other environmental groups represented by Earthjustice, and a number of other monument defenders (including scientific and indigenous advocacy groups) filed lawsuits.
Bears Ears is an ancestral homeland of several Native American tribes: the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni. President Obama designated the area a national monument in 2016 in response to the five tribes’ proposal, which NRDC and partners supported. One of the most ecologically intact, road-free areas in the Lower 48, Bears Ears is a living landscape knit together by countless dwellings, kivas, granaries, rock art panels and other sites that hold deep cultural and religious importance to the tribes today. Among other historic aspects of the monument, its designation provided a role for the tribes to advise the federal government on managing the lands.
Grand Staircase-Escalante encompasses a magnificent landscape of stair-stepping cliffs and plateaus that showcase millennia of geologic, evolutionary, and human history. President Clinton established the monument in 1996. Nicknamed “the Science Monument,” it offers an unparalleled window into the Late Cretaceous period, yielding fossils of previously undiscovered dinosaur species. Amidst its multihued cliffs, delicate rock arches, and sinuous canyon systems, Grand Staircase safeguards fragile desert plant and animal communities.
Last year, President Trump tried to roll back protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, by lifting all restrictions on commercial fishing. NRDC and partners sued. (More here.) The area, inhabited by thousand-year-old corals, endangered whales and other marine life, lies about 130 miles off the coast of New England, and is the only marine monument in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean. It was designated in 2016, after extensive public outreach, including multiple stakeholders meetings and opportunities for public comment. Commercial fishing poses a range of threats, such as harm to corals from heavy fishing gear and ensnarement of marine mammals. After the monument’s designation and before Trump’s rollback, government landings and revenues data showed no evidence of economic loss for the commercial fishing industry.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Recent NRDC blogs on national monuments can be found here and here.
Learn about the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, consisting of the five Native American tribes who led the way to establish and defend Bears Ears National Monument. More about the tribes’ lawsuit is here.
Read about NRDC’s litigation on Bears Ears, Grand Staircase, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts (also here).
An illustrated video on the Canyons and Seamounts by NRDC’s Perrin Ireland is here.
Photos and videos of the monument areas are available upon request.
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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC