SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – President Biden has signed a proclamation restoring two Utah national monuments: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, on Friday morning.
The two monuments will be restored to their original boundaries and “full glory” as first established under the Clinton and Obama administrations. The third monument to be expanded is the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monuments in Rhode Island.
“The protection of public lands must not become a pendulum that swings back and forth depending on who’s in office,” said Biden. “It is not a partisan issue.”
Biden said the decision to expand the monuments is part of an overarching plan tackling climate change and reversing the “harmful” policies enacted under President Trump. In 2017 under President Trump, Bears Ears National Monument was downsized by 85% and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was downsized by nearly 50%.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson was on the White House grounds when Biden signed the proclamation.
“We need to take proactive measures to protect our vital and cherished federal lands in Utah,” Wilson said. “Additionally, this move honors the wishes of Native Americans who have stood firm for justice, by preserving more than 100,000 sacred, archeological, and cultural sites. The restoration and preservation of Obama-era boundaries is appropriate land policy. These lands don’t need to be developed or extracted. There is value in investing in our tourism economy and expanding clean industries.” Mayor Wilson went on to say, “There continues to be a false argument that expanding extractive industries on federal lands within Utah is a solution for jobs and the economy. The last thing we need are oil trucks colliding with tourists on our rural roads, as day-to-day we become better known worldwide for our exquisite, precious, and historical landscapes.”
Biden says national parks are the birthright of every American and a major part of our identity saying, “This is a country we must protect together,” Biden said.
Biden heralded the proclamation, noting the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument over the last quarter-century, “has produced significant scientific discoveries per acre, more than any other national monument — everything from fossils to ancient indigenous artifacts.”
The cuts were condemned by environmental and tribal groups, while conservative Utah politicians applauded the cuts, believing the monuments’ sizes were examples of government overreach. Regarding Utah politicians’ pushback to the announcement, Biden says, “They did not agree with what I was doing, but they were gracious.”
Native American tribes have heralded the restoration, relieved that government officials are honoring their promises to local tribes. Bears Ears National Monument is the first national monument in the country to be established at the request of federally recognized tribes. Biden described the monument as a place of healing, reverence, and a sacred homeland to hundreds of generations of Native Peoples.
The Trump administration’s reduction efforts to both monuments allowed efforts of potential coal mining and oil and gas drilling on previously off-limit lands.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox released a statement expressing disappointment in the decision saying, “The president’s decision to enlarge the monuments again is a tragic missed opportunity — 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,” he said in a statement released with other state leaders It did not include specifics on the plan.
Biden said the decision to expand the monuments is part of an overarching plan tackling climate change and reversing the “harmful” policies enacted under President Trump.
“The President’s protection of these three national monuments is among a series of steps the Administration has taken to restore protections to some of America’s most cherished lands and waters, many of which are sacred to Tribal Nations,” White House officials say.