Bears Ears National Monument Restored
Today, President Joseph Biden issued an Executive Proclamation restoring Bears Ears National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante in southeast Utah and Northeast Canyon and Seamounts Marine National Monument on the New England coast. The protection of Bears Ears National Monument has been one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s top priorities for the past decade. President Biden’s proclamation reverses the former administration’s controversial December 2017 revocation of the Bears Ears national monument designation, meant to protect what is widely considered some of the most culturally significant land in the American Southwest. The revocation removed nearly 85% of the monument, approximately 1.35 million acres of land.
President Biden’s Executive Proclamation marks a significant victory for the National Trust, which has been working in partnership with Native American tribes, conservationists and advocacy groups across the nation to protect the cultural and archaeological resources, cliff dwellings, paleontological resources, and scenic vistas of the Bears Ears region. The proclamation also serves as the latest chapter in a battle over the proper scope of the national monument that now spans three presidential administrations.
“Bears Ears National Monument has always been worthy of preserving because of the 12,000 years of stories it tells,” said Paul Edmondson, President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “But over the last several years, this campaign has become more than just an opportunity to preserve history. It has become a fight over the future of national monument designations in this country and whether the Antiquities Act will continue to be an effective preservation tool. Today’s executive action is an important victory for all Americans who cherish this country’s rich cultural heritage.”
THE FIGHT FOR BEARS EARS
The National Trust’s involvement in the nation-wide campaign to save Bears Ears began in 2007. In its capacity as a national leader in the field of preservation, the National Trust provided strategic research and targeted advocacy to highlight the need to protect the important cultural resources of the region.
In 2014, the National Trust designated the area that became Bears Ears National Monument as a National Treasure, the category of Trust commitment that allows its most significant investment in a historic place. To continue to call attention to the importance of the area, the Trust placed Bears Ears on its influential list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2016. Later that year, the Trust submitted testimony to a House Committee hearing and a joint letter to former President Obama – along with seventeen other preservation, conservation, and archaeology organizations – urging the President to certify a national monument designation for the area.
SECURING A VICTORY
On December 28, 2016, former President Obama invoked the Antiquities Act of 1906, the nation’s oldest legal protection for the historic features on federal public lands, to designate Bears Ears a 1.35 million-acre national monument and to establish the Bears Ears Commission, a management advisory group consisting of tribal representatives designated by the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, and Zuni Tribe. This was the first time the Antiquities Act was used to establish a formal mechanism to include tribal involvement in federal decision-making about a national monument designated on ancestral lands.
Less than a year after taking office, former President Trump revoked national monument status for 85% of the Bears Ears National Monument land area to make way for exploratory drilling and mining, despite the significant threat to a range of cultural resources. By taking this action, former President Trump became the first president to claim that the Antiquities Act granted presidential authority to revoke national monument designations, a power that Congress has reserved for itself through the limited grant of executive authority included in the Antiquities Act.
In response, the Trust renewed its advocacy by joining a coalition of plaintiffs in one of three lawsuits challenging the revocation, and mobilizing its members to sign petitions, submit public comments, or email their members of Congress to protect the integrity of the Antiquities Act and the cultural resources at Bears Ears.
THE PATH FORWARD
While today’s Executive Proclamation marks a significant chapter in the Bears Ears National Monument story, it is unlikely to be the final one. Questions regarding the scope of presidential power granted by the Antiquities Act still remain. Interests opposed to the monument might challenge today’s decision in court, putting the area’s resources at risk again. Despite these challenges, the National Trust stands ready to continue the fight to preserve and protect the rich, irreplaceable cultural resources of Bears Ears. But today, we celebrate.
TIMELINE OF NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION ENGAGEMENT ON BEARS EARS NATIONAL MONUMENT DESIGNATION
- Trust partners with local tribal leaders and allies to advocate protection of the cultural resources in southeastern Utah from looting, vandalism and oil and gas development.
- Trust adds Bears Ears to National Treasures program
- Bears Ears included on National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America list, garners national attention
- Trust sends letter to President Obama on behalf of 18 national, regional, and local organizations urging National Monument proclamation by the end of 2016 (November)
- President Obama Names Bears Ears a National Monument (December 28)
- President Donald Trump signs the Executive Order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act (April 26)
- More than 685,000 comments collected by coalition of organizations including the Trust submitted to Department of Interior in support of Bears Ears National Monument
- Trust President and CEO, Stephanie Meeks submits comments to Secretary of Interior Zinke from the Trust (May 25)
- Trust releases statement urging Trump to reject recommendation to reduce size of Bears Ears National Monument (September)
- President Donald Trump issues Executive Proclamation reducing land area of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent (December 4)
- Trust joins coalition suing to stop dismemberment of Bears Ears National Monument (December 6)
- Trust opposes legislation that would congressionally codify the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument (February)
- Trust submits testimony in House National Resources Committee oversight hearing examining reduction of Bears Ears National Monuments (March)
- Trust, tribes, and local preservation advocacy partners defer 19 parcels from an oil and gas lease sale on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land near Bears Ears (April)
- Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah make Trust’s 2019 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places (May)
- Trust releases statement in response to BLM’s inadequate management plan and Environmental Impact Study for the area formerly designated as Bears Ears National Monument (July)
- Trust files formal protest of the BLM Monument Management Plan (August 26)
- BLM releases final management plan and Environmental Impact Study; Trust rallies members to submit public comments (September)
- Trust files briefs in federal district court, together with co-plaintiffs, urging the court to declare unlawful the Trump revocation of Bears Ears National Monument (January 9 and April 10)
- On first day in office, President Joseph Biden signs executive order directing Secretary of the Interior to review the revocation of the Bears Ears National Monument within next 60 days (January 20)
- Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) confirmed as Secretary of the Interior; first Native American to hold position (March 15)