Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments restored to former boundaries

Oct 20, 2021


Sandstone formations in Utah
Credit esudroff from Pixabay

Over the past five years, the boundaries of two of Utah's national monuments have fluctuated dramatically. National monuments don’t usually change size from one administration to the next. But since 2016, the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase have experienced a yo-yo effect. 

“It's a fundamental misreading of Congress's intent with the Antiquities Act, to say that there's going to be just a flip flopping from administration to administration.”

Steve Bloch is the Legal Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and said that national monuments were intended to be permanent. According to Bloch, the Trump administration’s shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante was an unprecedented attempt to dismantle an already created national monument. 

On Friday, President Joe Biden reinstated the boundaries set by former President Barack Obama for Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. In addition to reinstating the original boundaries of both monuments, Biden added 12,000 acres to Bears Ears. 

“The proclamations made clear that the protection of the monument objects, so the sacred sites and the fossils and the ecology and the species within those monuments is the priority of how those landscapes are supposed to be managed”, Bloch said.

Bears Ears is the first national monument to be specifically designated at the request of indigenous people in the United States. The reinstatement of the monument boundaries has been celebrated by a variety of stakeholders including environmental nonprofits and the inter-tribal coalition. Governor Cox, Utah’s senators and congressmen have spoken in opposition to the reinstatement. 

Despite this controversy, Bloch believes that through the lens of history, these monuments will be viewed favorably. “You know, Utahns, at the time, complained about the establishment of national monuments that led up to Arches National Park and Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park. And now those are viewed without any doubt, as was the mighty five, right, is the crown jewels of, of the national park system. And I think the decision to restore the Grand Staircase and Bears Ears well I think future generations will shake their head that there was every any question that this was the right decision ”