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Biden expected to restore Utah national monuments to pre-Trump cuts, getting immediate criticism and praise

Oct 7, 2021, 3:18 PM | Updated: Oct 8, 2021, 10:21 am

Reaction to word that President Joe Biden would restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monuments to their size before former President Donald Trump shrunk them, was met with swift criticism and praise Thursday.

The official announcement is expected Friday according to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune.

Utah elected officials, both in Washington D.C. and some local elected officials, criticized the news immediately after its release.

“We learned this afternoon from Secretary Haaland that President Biden will soon be announcing the restoration of both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments,” a delegation of state leaders said immediately after news broke. “President Biden’s decision to expand the monuments is disappointing, though not surprising.”

Praising the decision was the Center for Western Priorities. It said in a statement:

“Thank you, President Biden. You have listened to Indigenous tribes and the American people and ensured these landscapes will be protected for generations to come. The cultural and paleontological resources within the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase landscapes are too important to leave at risk.”

Republican U.S. senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, along with representatives Chris Stewart, John Curtis,  Burgess Owens, and Blake Moore issued a joint statement that called the forthcoming decision a devastating blow to efforts by the delegation to find a permanent, legislative solution to resolve the long dispute over boundaries and management over the two national monuments.

“We’re just really excited that the president is following through on his promise,” said Kate Groetzinger, with Western Priorities, a Denver-based conservation group that advocates for the responsible use of public lands.

Groetzinger is also a resident of San Juan County and says despite what state leaders are saying, President Biden’s expansion has a lot of support in the area, particularly from tribes. She believes it will help protect the land.

“We’re really excited he’s listening to tribes. They’ve been asking for this restoration of Bears Ears since it was scaled back illegally by President Trump.”

At the end of September the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition urged the Biden administration to take “immediate action” to restore and expand the southern Utah monument. Hhaland, representing the Biden administration, visited Utah and met with Utah politicians and citizens and later recommended to Biden that Bears Ears be restored to the 1.3 million acres acres designated by former President Barak Obama in 2016, before its reduction by Trump when he visited the state in 2017.

The Inter-Tribal Coalition is comprised of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni.

The Grand and San Juan county commissions support the larger sized monuments.

The full statement from Utah’s Congressional delegation states:

“President Biden is delivering a devastating blow to the ongoing efforts 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 Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Rather than take the opportunity to build unity in a divided region and bring resources and lasting protections to sacred antiquities by seeking a mutually beneficial and permanent legislative solution, President Biden fanned the flames of controversy and ignored input from the communities closest to these monuments. We will continue to support efforts to ensure that our monuments’ boundaries and management reflect the unique stakeholder interest and uses in the area, but today’s “winner take all” mentality moved us further away from that goal.”

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said previously the state would likely sue if Biden restored the monument. There were lawsuits challenging the Trump declaration to shrink the monuments.

We commend President Biden for using his authority to return these treasured and sacred places to their original protective boundaries for all Americans.

The Utah House Democratic Caucus praised the Biden decision. It released a statement that said in part:

“The decision of the previous administration to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments was profoundly flawed and heavily influenced by extraction and development interests.”

A statement released from Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, state Senate President Stuart Adams and state House Speaker Brad Wilson said the decision to expand the monuments is disappointing, though not surprising.

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Biden expected to restore Utah national monuments to pre-Trump cuts, getting immediate criticism and praise