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President Biden to Review Bears Ears National Monument

© Robert Durran

Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden has signed an Executive Order to review the boundaries and restore protections of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments in Utah. Bears Ears contains areas of historical and cultural importance, significant natural resources and is home to popular climbing areas including Indian Creek. Bears Ears was designated Monument status by President Barack Obama in December 2016 as a parting legacy, but its boundaries were reduced by 85% under President Trump's proclamation in December 2016.

Indian Creek, Utah  © Robert Durran
Indian Creek, Utah
© Robert Durran, Sep 2015

President Trump's reduction of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante Monument is the largest rollback of federal land protection in US history. The loss of protection opened the areas up to potential oil and gas extraction and uranium mining, while "rock climbing" as a valued activity was not acknowledged in Trump's revised proclamation.

Under the proclamation, around two million acres of public lands would lose their protected status and nearly 40% of the climbing areas within Bears Ears would become vulnerable. Climbing and walking areas that fall outwith the Trump Administration's boundaries include Hart's Draw and Valley of the Gods and some sectors at Indian Creek (including the popular Cliffs of Insanity and The Wall).

Access Fund, Native American tribes and conservation groups have been involved in a two-year-long litigation process to sue the Trump Administration and protect the implicated public lands. 'Access Fund does not believe that President Trump has the authority to modify a National Monument. His proclamation violates the Antiquities Act and the US Constitution,' a statement on their website reads. The case is pending in federal court.

Trump signs the Antiquities Act in 2017.  © Shealah Craighead [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Trump signs the Antiquities Act in 2017.
© Shealah Craighead [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In a rushed attempt to secure the reduction, the Trump Administration fast-tracked a Monument Management Plan for the reduced monument boundaries. 'This premature management plan failed both climbers and tribes, postponing for years critical recreation management that is needed now to protect and uphold the values of the monument,' the Access Fund states.

The organisation is lobbying the Biden Administration 'to develop a new, landscape-scale monument management plan, giving the Native American community a more meaningful role in its development and better reflecting stakeholders, including climbers.'

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition has called for the Biden Administration to restore the Monument to its original size, with a view to expanding it further at a later date to a larger area initially requested by tribes.

Conservation issues featured prominently in President Biden's campaign pledges in a bid to reverse the "harmful policies" implemented by the Trump Administration, as explained in a fact sheet issued on the President's inauguration day. In addition to rejoining the Paris Agreement, issues threatening marine and Arctic conservation are also under review alongside vehicle emission standards and Trump's approval of the Keystone XL oil and gas pipeline.

In May 2017, an advocacy event named 'Climb the Hill' took place on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where a select few top US climbers met with Congress representatives to discuss public lands currently under threat by the Trump Administration and lobby members of Utah's congressional delegation.

Professional climber Tommy Caldwell posted on Instagram yesterday about receiving a care package in return for his climate and environmental advocacy work.


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Jo Biden needs to sign so many orders in so few days that he may develop wrist injury. Occupational hazard of taking over from previous administration.

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