Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has recommended to the Biden Administration that the pre-Trump boundaries of several national monuments, Bear Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monuments being the most prominent, be reinstated. The recommendations from Haaland to Biden were private but have since been confirmed by multiple government and media sources.
If the Biden Administration agrees to the recommendations, over 5 million acres will once again under federal protection. News of the recommendation has been received with applause and support from a host of environmental and conservancy groups that have urged the Biden Administration to reinstate the Obama-era boundaries.
The Trump administration oversaw an aggressive reduction of federal land in the American West. Trump reduced Bear Ears by 85 percent and Grand-Staircase Escalante by half. Trump also permitted commercial fishing in Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monuments, massive marine reserves off the coast of New England, during his tenure. His decision to open up the marine monuments virtually eliminated any protections the monuments had.
The decision to reduce the size of Bear Ears National Monument was applauded by Republicans and ranchers who had been pushing for the reduction of the national monument for years. Bear Ears National Monument holds considerable uranium, coal, and natural gas deposits. Looters have also been a nuisance for the area, since the monument contains a significant number of indigenous sites with many artifacts still intact.
The Bear Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which consists of five Tribes: Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Tribe, Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni, have protested the move by the Trump Administration for years. According to the organization’s spokesman, Pat Gonzales-Rogers, the organization dedicated its time to organizing and waiting for a more friendly administration during Trump’s tenure. The Washington Post reported that Rogers is in full support of Haaland’s recommendation if it is true.
One of Biden’s first actions when he took office was to review three national monuments that were significantly reduced in size during Trump’s Administration. The renewed focus on the U.S. public lands was part of a greater initiative by the administration to meet an ambitious goal of protecting over 30 percent of U.S. land and water by 2030. Haaland’s first trip as Secretary of Interior was to Bear Ears National Monument to meet with Utah lawmakers to set definitive boundaries for the national monument. Utah lawmakers seek to establish permanent boundaries for the national monuments in hopes that future administrations will not continue to redefine them.
Conservative lawmakers hope to fight any decision to expand the national monuments. Many conservatives see Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as an ally against increasing the amount of land under federal protection. They cite Roberts’ comments towards the Northeast Canyons Marine Monument, in which he deemed the size and restrictions of the monuments as an overreach by the federal government. He noted that the marine reserve was created from legislation originally intended to protect historical indigenous artifacts in the American Southwest.
Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, Biden has the power to use his executive authority to protect federal land if it is deemed threatened. Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act to create the 1.35 million acres Bear Ears National Monument in 2016.
The recommendation is yet to be considered official, but many believe that the Biden Administration is seriously considering the recommendation made by Haaland.