Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has recommended the full restoration of the original boundaries of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments, which were reduced by former President Donald Trump in 2017.
The details of Haaland’s report to President Joe Biden, submitted on June 2, were published by The Washington Post on Monday. Her recommendations came on the heels of a visit to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in April and have not yet been made public formally.
In March, Utah’s congressmen — senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney and representatives Chris Stewart, John Curtis, Burgess Owens and Blake Moore — requested that Biden allow the monument controversy to be worked out legislatively, rather than through executive action. After Secretary Haaland submitted her recommendation on June 2, the Utah group requested a chance to meet with Biden before he makes a final decision regarding the monuments. The congressmen issued a statement renewing that request on Monday.
“We reiterate our request that the president publicly release the Secretary’s report recommendations and meet with our delegation before making a final decision on the monuments’ boundaries,” the delegation said in a joint statement. “We also urge the administration to work with our delegation, as well as with state, local, and tribal leaders, to craft a permanent, legislative solution, which we believe is the only path to resolving this longstanding issue and providing much-needed certainty to our communities.”
Bears Ears was created by President Barack Obama in 2016 at the request of multiple Indigenous tribes — Diné (Navajo), Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute and Ute. President Donald Trump reduced the acreage of Bears Ears National Monument by 85% in 2017, citing local opposition. Republican officials in San Juan County and at the state level claimed that the monument limited local economic opportunities at the time; today, the formerly protected land has seen drilling, mining, looting and other extractive activities since the monument’s reduction. President Bill Clinton established Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, which Trump also reduced in 2017 by 50%.
Both landscapes are sacred to several Native American groups in the area and are defined by dramatic canyons, massive rock formations, endangered wildlife and archaeological finds. The shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments was the largest reduction of federal land protections in American history at the time. Multiple lawsuits are pending against Trump from conservationists, archaeologists and Indigenous groups, who claim that the monuments’ minimizations were illegal.
Haaland’s report also includes a recommendation to protect the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts — the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean. Trump allowed commercial fishing in the area in 2020, removing the area’s federal protections. The national monument is home to the endangered North Atlantic right whale and was established by President Obama in 2016.
Though both Grand and San Juan County commissions have penned letters to the president in support of the monuments’ restoration, Utah’s congressional delegation and state-level officials have voiced opposition. Governor Spencer Cox indicated that the state of Utah would “likely” sue the federal government if the monuments were restored.
Though the White House has made no official comment regarding Haaland’s recommendation, Biden stated his intent was to restore both monuments during his 2020 presidential campaign as part of his goal to protect 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030. He also ordered Haaland to review the boundaries and protections of the monuments on his first day in office.
Haaland is America’s first Native American cabinet member, and many anticipated her recommendation to restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase after her visit to Utah in April. Conservationists, Indigenous tribes and outdoor enthusiasts await the decision.