President Biden is expected to announce plans today to restore the original boundaries of three US National Monuments that were significantly reduced in 2017 by President Trump, whose proclamation marked the largest rollback of federal land protection in US history.
Mr. Biden will reinstate and slightly expand the 1.3 million acre boundaries of Utah's Bears Ears National Monument, and restore Grand Staircase-Escalante to its original 1.8 million acre scale, in addition to reinstating protection in New England's Northeast Canyons and Seamounts marine monument.
"The president's protection of these three national monuments is among a series of steps the administration has taken to restore protections to some of America's most cherished lands and waters, many of which are sacred to tribal nations," the Biden administration is expected to say today (Friday 8 October), according to a statement presented to The New York Times.
Bears Ears will incorporate one boundary which was expanded by 11,200 acres during the Trump era, in addition to the original Obama-era designation.
In May 2017, Mr. Trump ordered the review of Obama's parting designation of Bears Ears National Monument as the first priority, amongst numerous other parks, with rescindment or reduction of protected lands likely as critics pushed for developments in oil and gas drilling.
An 84% reduction of Bears Ears and a 50% reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments signed by Mr. Trump in December 2017 (UKC News) resulted in a major loss of protection for land bearing cultural, environmental, archaeological and historical significance to native populations and uncertain access to popular climbing and hiking hotspots in Indian Creek.
Under President Trump's proclamation, around two million acres of public lands lost their protected status; within the crack climbing Mecca Indian Creek, the Cliffs of Insanity and The Wall both lost monument status. Other climbing and walking areas falling outwith the Trump Administration's proposed boundaries included Hart's Draw and Valley of the Gods.
In February 2018, the monuments opened to leasing for resource extraction. Two years later in 2020, Mr. Trump finalised plans to allow energy drilling and mining on 861,974 acres of land in Grand Staircase-Escalante. The Guardian revealed later that year that in total, the Trump administration had offered 108 million acres of US public lands for oil and gas drilling, and sold 10.6 billion acres.
However, bureaucracy and low demand for leases have delayed developments, while Presidential administrations transitioned in the meantime.
An advocacy event 'Climb the Hill' took place on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in May 2017, where prominent 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.
Despite this determined pushback by demonstrating climbers, environmental organisations and outdoor industry leaders, Mr. Trump's decision ultimately resulted in the monuments falling under the control of the Bureau of Land Management, who subsequently rushed a 'flawed' management plan for Bears Ears, which, according to the US Access Fund, failed 'the climbing community, the environment, and Native American Tribes.'
Outdoor retailer Patagonia filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration for the protection of Bears Ears National Monument, alongside tribe leaders and a coalition of environmental and recreational organisations including the Access Fund.
These groups argued that the Antiquities Act of 1906 gave presidents the power to create national monuments, but not the power to reduce them. Lawsuits are ongoing, with a stay imposed on proceedings since the transfer of Presidential administrations.
On his first day in office in January this year, President Biden issued an executive order initiating a review of Trump's rollbacks to Bears Ears, Grand Staircase–Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts.
In June, Deb Haaland, the United States' interior secretary and its first Native American cabinet secretary, advised Mr. Biden to restore the monuments to their original scale.
Native groups and Access Fund have expressed relief at the news online, while Utah governers announced their 'disappointment' in Biden's rollback, citing the need for a 'permanent, legislative solution' to end the shifting of boundaries.
The US Access Fund commented in January: 'We look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration to protect this exceptional cultural region, which is also home to world-class climbing areas like Indian Creek.' Lobbying groups are due to attend discussions at the White House today.
Something big is coming! Our Executive Director, Chris Winter has been invited to the #WhiteHouse tomorrow to join @POTUS as he signs a proclamation to restore #BearsEarsNationalMonument. Tune in to our IG tomorrow to follow #ClimbersInTheWhitehouse https://t.co/QCO0jzcK5W pic.twitter.com/dfF2a6OR07— Access Fund (@accessfund) October 8, 2021