Despite urging from state officials, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (second from left) has recommended that President Joe Biden restore the boundaries of the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Haaland is shown during an April tour of ancient dwellings with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Rep. Blake Moore (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
SALT LAKE CITY – State officials and lawmakers here are unanimous in their condemnation of a decision by President Joe Biden to expand two controversial national monuments in Utah.
The Biden administration announced Thursday that the president will restore the original boundaries of the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments at a White House ceremony on Friday.
“The president’s decision to enlarge the monuments again is a tragic missed opportunity,” said Gov. Spencer Cox in a statement released jointly with Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, House Speaker Brad Wilson, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Attorney General Sean Reyes.
“It fails to provide certainty as well as funding for law enforcement, research and other protections which these monuments need and only congressional action can offer.”
On Capitol Hill in Washington, members of Utah’s congressional delegation – U.S. Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney as well as Representatives Blake Moore, Chris Stewart, John Curtis and Burgess Owens — signaled similar frustration with Biden’s decision.
“President Biden is delivering a devastating blow,” they charged in a joint statement, “to the ongoing effort by our delegation, along with state, local and tribal leaders, to find a permanent, legislative solution to resolve the longstanding dispute over the boundaries and management of the Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.”
The Grand Staircase National Monument was created in 1996 by an executive order by former President Bill Clinton. Former President Barak Obama set aside the Bear Ears National Monument in 2016. Both areas are considered to be sacred to Native American tribes, including the Navajo, Hopi, Ute and Pueblo tribes.
In 2017, former President Donald Trump responded to complaints from Utah officials by downsizing the Bears Ears monument by 85 percent and reducing the area of the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument by half.
At the urging of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Biden’s recent decision will restore the Bear Ears monument to 1.36 million acres and the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument to 1.87 million acres.
The White House has defended the restoration of the monuments as “ … necessary to protect some of America’s most cherished lands and waters.”
But Utah’s senators and congressional representative counter that Biden has merely “… fanned the flames of controversy and ignored input from the communities closest to these monuments.”
In their statements, Utah officials both in Salt Lake City and Washington threatened legal action to achieve “ … lasting progress on managing our public lands for the benefit of all those who use them, particularly those who live on or near those lands.”
Cox cited a recent statement by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts that “ … the purpose of the Antiquities Act is to protect the ‘smallest area compatible with the care and management’ of significant archeological or historical objects to be protected.”
“We agree,” the governor concluded “and will consider all available legal options to that end.”