After Trump’s rollback attempts, Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts will no longer be won over by the industry.
In a hard-won victory for tribal peoples and environmental groups, President Biden will today sign proclamations to restore the original boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments and to restore the protection of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
“It is hard to overestimate how important this land is to the indigenous peoples who have lived in the region for millennia. for archaeologists and paleontologists who come from all over the world to study; and for hikers, climbers and campers who want to enjoy some of the most beautiful natural spaces in the world, ”says Sharon Buccino, Senior Director of the Land Division at NRDC.
NRDC President and CEO Manish Bapna added, “The restoration of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts – an extraordinary underwater landscape filled with ancient corals and marine life – will preserve a living laboratory for scientists and will make our ocean more resilient to climate change.”
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior cut the size of two national monuments in Utah – Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 46 percent – in what marks the largest public land protection withdrawal in U.S. history. The government also tried to remove protection from Northeast Canyon and Seamounts Marine National Monument, located 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, and open the endangered marine ecosystem to commercial fishing.
In response, NRDC fought several years of litigation, arguing that under the Antiquities Act, presidents do not have the constitutional or legal authority to revoke national monuments. the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Pueblo of Zuni, as well as scientific and indigenous interest groups, also filed separate lawsuits. Together, advocacy and legal pushback kept large-scale industrial development in the regions in check. NRDC has also defended the monument status of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts several times, first in a lawsuit by fishing industry groups and later in our own challenge against the Trump administration’s repossession.
One of the most ecologically intact, road-free areas in Lower 48, Bears Ears is home to countless apartment buildings, kivas, granaries, rock art, and other sites that have deep cultural and religious significance to the Navajo Nation, the Hopi tribe. Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni, who first proposed their national monument designation to President Obama. “This begins a new chapter in Bears Ears management that respects the traditional tribal knowledge in tending to this vibrant landscape,” says Bapna. “We proudly stand by the five Indian tribes who have led the long and visionary efforts to protect and restore Bears Ears.”
Nearby is Grand Staircase-Escalante, home to some of the region’s most popular badlands, cliff and canyon systems, as well as some of the best-preserved artifacts and dinosaur fossils in the world. Nicknamed the “Science Monument”, it offers an incomparable window into the late Cretaceous period and provides fossils of previously undiscovered dinosaur species.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts — named for its dramatic underwater terrain of canyons and sheer underwater mountains — is a biodiversity hotspot teeming with 1,000-year-old corals and unique and rare species, as well as an important habitat for dolphins and whales. Commercial fishing poses a number of threats as industrial fishing gear can damage coral reefs, entangle marine mammals and disrupt food webs. No data has ever shown economic loss to commercial fisheries since the monument was named.
“This is a victory for science, for future generations, and for everyone who seeks comfort, education, healing, and inspiration in these special places,” says Bapna.