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Victory: National Monuments Regain Protections

This page was published 2 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

Millions of acres of land in Utah and marine area off the coast of New England have regained national monument status after the Trump administration tried to open them to mining, drilling, and other extractive industries. Today, President Biden restored the original boundaries of Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monuments.

Earthjustice sued the Trump administration in 2017 over the decision to shrink the monuments, following in the footsteps of several Native American tribes who immediately filed lawsuits. Our cases and the threat of further litigation helped to stave off some of the worst damage of industrial activities.

Bob Wick / BLM
The vast and austere landscape of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument offers a spectacular array of scientific and historic resources.

These monuments hold immense cultural, archeological, and ecological value.

  • Spanning over a million acres, Bears Ears is home to ancient cliff dwellings, Native American cultural sites, and iconic wildlife such as bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions.
  • The monument houses over 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites, with some dating back to 12,000 B.C.E. Tribes continue to visit these lands to hold ceremonies and to connect with their ancestors.
  • President Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument after years of advocacy from a historic partnership between the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni governments, along with archeological, conservation and recreation voices.

Bob Wick / BLM
Moon House is an ancestral Puebloan site located on Cedar Mesa within Bears Ears.

In 2017, the Trump administration reduced the boundaries of multiple national monuments, taking away their federal protections — and was met with huge public backlash.

  • The Trump administration shrank the boundaries of Bears Ears by 85% and cut the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante by half, opening those lands to mining and drilling. The administration’s plans included destructive industry practices like chaining forests with waist-thick chains and carving up landscapes for new roads.
  • Public outcry against the rollbacks was swift and widespread. Tens of thousands of people wrote to the government to condemn the shrinking of national monuments for corporate greed.
  • Without the full federal protections, tribes reported looting and vandalism in the Utah Monuments, including stolen artifacts, vandalized ancient drawings, and destroyed pottery.
  • Almost immediately following the Trump administration’s rollbacks, sovereign tribal nations and conservation groups sued to protect the monuments’ value to Indigenous culture, world-renowned paleontological resources, outdoor recreation, biodiversity and the region’s economic stability.
  • Earthjustice sued to protect Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, representing nine organizations, and was co-plaintiff with NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

NOAA Ocean Explorer
An octopus hides among rocks at Northeast Canyons & Seamounts Marine National Monument.

What happens now?

  • With President Biden’s proclamation, these monuments regain their full federal protections once more.
  • Because of this victory, sacred tribal cultural sites are protected from looting, threatened species can roam free through wild lands, and the oil and gas industry’s land grab was defeated. Join us in thanking the Biden administration for preserving our public lands.
Indian Creek, within Bears Ears National Monument.
Indian Creek, within Bears Ears National Monument. (Bob Wick / BLM)