The fate of Utah’s two monuments, Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, have been hanging in the balance for the past couple of presidential administrations. Recently, the Biden administration has restored the monuments to their original size, a combined 3.2 million acres. However, Utah officials aren’t on board with the decision.
Originally, these vital national monuments were established as such by the Clinton and Obama administrations. During Trump’s presidency, he cut the size of the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments by 85 percent and nearly 50 percent, respectively.
Now, the Biden administration has restored the monuments’ original measurements under the Antiquities Act. Biden stated that Bear Ears is “a place of reverence, a sacred homeland to hundreds of generations of native peoples.”
The Antiquities Act of 1906 allows the president to award protective rights to landmarks and other significant areas.
However, Utah and two of its counties argue that the monuments are too big and violate this act.
“The lands that make up Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments are a stewardship that none of us take lightly,” Utah Governor Spencer Cox and supporters wrote in an official statement, as well as in a Twitter thread. “But rather than guarding those resources, President Biden’s unlawful designations place them all at risk.”
Utah Opposers Say Lawsuit Is ‘Wasting Taxpayer Money’
Among the opposers of the state’s stance is Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities. Rokala believes that the lawsuit is a waste of taxpayer money.”
Instead, she believes Utah is “trying to undermine something that is evident to anyone who spends time in these remarkable landscapes.”
She added, “Both legal and historical precedent support the creation of these landscape-scale monuments.”
Governor Cox Fears State Will Not Be Able to Support Such Large National Monuments
Cox stated that the Antiquities Act limits presidents to confine monuments “to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management” in order to protect the objects in question.
According to Cox, the immense size of the two monuments leaves the state without the resources to support them. He claimed that Utah would see “unmanageable visitation” following the restoration.
He continued, “The archeological, paleontological, religious, recreational, and geologic values need to be protected. But the vast size of the new monuments draws unmanageable visitation levels without providing the tools necessary to adequately conserve and protect them.”
To clarify his stance, Cox explained that the state did not seek to revoke the national monuments’ statuses. Nor did his supporters wish to transfer the federal public lands to state or private ownership.
“Rather, Utah is challenging President Biden’s actions so that diverse stakeholders can work together on a long-term congressional solution for the conservation of these lands,” he said.
In terms of a congressional solution, Cox believes that this would “ensure tribal access to sacred sites, provide federal agencies with the management tools they need, channel visitation into appropriate protected locations, and give local communities the funding and flexibility they need to thrive economically.”