WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) praised the Biden administration’s decision to restore Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monuments. The move comes on the eve of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, Oct. 11. President Biden’s action reverses the Trump administration’s illegal reduction of the national monuments, which remain the subject of ongoing litigation. Grijalva previously led an amicus brief with then-Senator Udall arguing against the legality of the reductions.
“President Biden’s decision to restore full federal protection to Bears Ears, Grand Staircase Escalante and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monuments shows this administration’s commitment to conserving our public lands and respecting the voices of Indigenous Peoples,” said Chair Grijalva. “It’s time to put Trump’s cynical actions in the rear-view mirror, restore rightful protections, and restart the Bears Ears co-management arrangement with the tribes who have held this place sacred since time immemorial.”
Bears Ears National Monument was established by the Obama administration in 2016 under the Antiquities Act following years of advocacy by numerous tribes with cultural ties to the land. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition—made up of the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe and Pueblo of Zuni—advocated successfully to protect the cultural, historic, and natural values of the monument.
Bears Ears is home to multiple culturally significant and archeological sites dating as far back as 11,000 BCE. The land is still in use today by tribal members, who continually visit it to conduct religious ceremonies and other traditional practices.
When President Obama established the monument, the area was already facing considerable threats from mining and energy development as well as looting and vandalism. President Trump’s decision to shrink the monument by more than 85 percent was the largest rollback of public lands protection in history and a violation of the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations to protect tribal lands and resources. Following the decision in 2018, the Trump administration opened land in the Bears Ears region for mineral development and industry speculators have been staking claims throughout the formerly protected area.
The Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on March 13, 2019, during which multiple tribal leaders spoke about the inadequate regulatory process leading to Trump’s decision. On April 12, 2021, Chair Grijalva co-led a letter with Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and 45 other House members asking President Biden to restore the monument’s boundaries.
Chair Grijalva has introduced the RESPECT Act, which will mandate the establishment of tribal consultation procedures across federal agencies for all projects and decisions that may impact tribal nations, lands, and resources.
President Obama established the first Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, in 2016 to protect ecological features and marine species such as deep sea corals and whales. The Trump administration illegally gutted the protections established within the national monument, but this announcement today restores full protections for the vulnerable canyons and seamounts ecosystem.