Biden set to issue new Utah monuments proclamations — governor

By Jennifer Yachnin | 10/07/2021 03:14 PM EST

The two bluffs known as the "Bears Ears" stand off in the distance in the Bears Ears National Monument outside Blanding, Utah. George Frey/Getty Images

This story was updated at 6:41 p.m. EDT.

President Biden is expected to sign proclamations tomorrow restoring a pair of Utah national monuments, nearly four years after his predecessor removed more than 2 million acres of public lands from those sites.

Although the White House has yet to formally announce the event, several individuals invited to Washington to witness Biden sign the orders confirmed they’ve been told he will take action on both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R), in a joint statement with Utah state officials, revealed that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland informed him this afternoon that the president had decided to expand the monuments.

“President Biden’s decision to expand the monuments is disappointing, though not surprising,” Cox said. “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.”

Several other people familiar with the monuments, including a Capitol Hill source, who declined to speak on the record, offered similar confirmations, although none could provide details about what the proclamations will include.

“We’re thrilled to be invited to the White House for the proclamation signing of the national monuments,” said Grand Staircase Escalante Partners Executive Director Sarah Bauman.

“Although we do not have details related to this event, we are hopeful that it will result in full restoration of Grand Staircase.”

Similarly, Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Co-Chair Clark Tenakhongva, who is also vice chair for the Hopi Tribe, told E&E News via email that he is planning to attend tomorrow’s event.

The coalition, which represents the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Pueblo of Zuni tribes, played a key role in President Obama’s original 2016 establishment of the monument.

A source familiar with the Bears Ears monument, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said representatives from each of those tribes have been invited to witness the new proclamations in person.

Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Executive Director Pat Gonzales-Rogers did not confirm the event but said the organization remains confident Biden will act.

“We look forward to restoring the Bears Ears in the most robust and traditional way possible, and we look forward to integrating and collaborating with the federal government to create a land management plan that will reflect the values of all parties,” Gonzales-Rogers said.

Both the Interior Department and the White House declined to comment.

During his 2020 campaign for the White House, Biden pledged to restore the cuts President Trump made to both the Utah sites in late 2017.

At a ceremony in Salt Lake City, Trump used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to shrink Bears Ears from 1.35 million acres to about 202,000 acres and reduce Grand Staircase-Escalante to about half of its 1.9-million-acre footprint.

Utah lawmakers have pressed the Biden administration in recent months to allow Congress to address the monuments via legislation rather than executive action.

Biden is expected to employ the Antiquities Act — which allows presidents to set aside federal lands as monuments to protect areas of cultural, historic or scientific interest — to restore some or all of the lands excised by Trump.

Haaland told House lawmakers in June that the executive action would not prohibit them from continuing to see a legislative solution.

“As a former member of Congress, I understand the value of legislation. That’s what you do. And I wholeheartedly support your decision to move ahead with any legislation if that’s what you choose to do,” she said (E&E Daily, June 24).

E&E News could not confirm whether the event would also address the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a 5,000-square-mile marine monument about 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., created by President Obama in late 2016.

Trump eliminated commercial fishing restrictions within that monument in mid-2020 (E&E News PM, June 5, 2020).

Following the publication of this article, Utah’s all GOP congressional delegation criticized Biden’s expected action, calling it a “devastating blow” to their call for a legislative solution.

“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,” said Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee and Reps. Chris Stewart, John Curtis, Burgess Owens and Blake Moore.

“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,” the lawmakers concluded.

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.