Bears Ears National Monument resized to 1.36 million acres, nearly 27 percent of county

President Joseph Biden signed an executive order restoring the Bears Ears National Monument to its original designated size on Friday, October 8. 

President Biden’s designation places the monument at 1.36 million acres, after the addition of 11,200 acres that President Trump added to the monument in 2017.

The 1.35 million-acre monument in San Juan County was designated by President Barack Obama in 2016. 

In 2017, President Donald Trump reduced the monument’s size by 85 percent and created two separate units – the Shash Ja and Indian Creek units – as part of reducing the size of the overall monument.

Now, with the third Presidential swipe of a pen, the monument is now near its original size.

Local elected entities weighed in on the future of the monument after President Biden won office in 2020. 

The city councils in Blanding and Monticello passed a joint resolution in favor of no change to the monument’s designation under President Trump.

Other elected officials passed resolutions asking for President Biden to restore the monument.

The San Juan County Commission, by a vote of 2-1 with Commissioners Willie Grayeyes and Kenneth Maryboy in favor and Commissioner Bruce Adams against, voted for the monument restoration. 

The county commission was joined by the Bluff Town Council and the Navajo Utah Commission, which is made up of chapter and Navajo Nation Council officials that represent Dine residents living in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.

Elected officials, tribal representatives, industry representatives, and environmental advocacy groups all shared their perspectives to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland when the former New Mexico representative visited San Juan County in March.

Haaland then prepared a report for the President, suggesting that the monument be restored to its original size, which President Biden did on October 8.

The order also restores Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to 1.87 million acres. 

A press release from the White House shared some of the additional supports the administration says it will give the monument: 

In restoring the Bears Ears National Monument, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to ensuring that there is adequate staffing and resources to appropriately protect the area’s natural and cultural resources, to manage the increased visitation that the area continues to experience, and to make Bears Ears a model for Tribal participation in the management of the Monument.

The Bureau of Land Management plans to assign additional rangers to the region; install appropriate signage and infrastructure to inform and support visitors; begin working with local communities, the State of Utah, and Tribal leaders on assessing the potential opportunity for a Bears Ears visitors center that highlights the monument’s cultural resources; and support the Bears Ears Intertribal Commission’s participation in management of the National Monument. 

All six of Utah’s federal representatives including Representative John Curtis, Senator Mike Lee and Senator Mitt Romney issued a joint statement ahead of the announcement.

“President Biden is delivering a devastating blow to the ongoing efforts by our delegation, along with state, local, and tribal leaders, to find a permanent, legislative solution to resolve the longstanding dispute over the boundaries and management of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

“Rather than take the opportunity to build unity in a divided region and bring resources and lasting protections to sacred antiquities by seeking a mutually beneficial and permanent legislative solution, President Biden fanned the flames of controversy and ignored input from the communities closest to these monuments.

“We will continue to support efforts to ensure that our monuments’ boundaries and management reflect the unique stakeholder interest and uses in the area, but today’s ‘winner take all’ mentality moved us further away from that goal.”  

Members of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition also issued a statement. Part of it reads:

“By taking this action, President Biden will be recognizing the deep and enduring ancestral and cultural connections that Tribes have to this landscape and taking a step toward honoring his commitment to Indigenous People by acknowledging their original place in this country that is now our shared home.

“The Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition looks forward to the President’s continued leadership in ensuring that a new model of collaborative management between the Tribes, state, and federal land agencies is immediately put into action and that a comprehensive Land Management Plan can be developed for the greater Bears Ears landscape.

“In this new model, the traditional knowledge and place-based conservation strategies of Tribal communities will play a significant role in shaping efforts to conserve and plan a resilient future for this landscape that we all hold dear.”

State leadership in Utah including Governor Spencer Cox, Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson also issued a statement. Part of it reads:

“President Biden’s decision to expand the monuments is disappointing, though not surprising. For the past 10 months, we have consistently offered to work with the Biden Administration on a permanent, legislative solution, one that would end the perpetual enlarging and shrinking of these monuments and bring certainty to their management. Our goal has been to make lasting progress on managing our public lands for the benefit of all those who use them, particularly those who live on and near those lands. 

“We expected and hoped for closer collaboration between our state and national leaders, especially on matters that directly impact Utah and our citizens.

“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. 

“As Chief Justice Roberts noted earlier this year, the purpose of the Antiquities Act is to protect the “smallest area compatible with the care and management” of significant archeological or historical objects to be protected.

“We agree and will consider all available legal options to that end.”

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