Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante announcement likely to draw both praise and ire

Oct 8, 2021, 11:57 AM | Updated: 3:45 pm
bears ears...
FILE - This June 22, 2016, file photo, shows the "House on Fire" ruins in Mule Canyon, which is part of Bears Ears National Monument, near Blanding, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — When President Donald Trump announced he was using the Antiquities Act to scale back the size of both Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 2017, it drew strong reactions — both from those who applauded the move and those appalled by it. 

So it stands to reason four years later, as President Joe Biden expands both monuments to their original size, the reaction will be similarly strong. 

Bears Ears, Grand Staircase to go back to larger size

Mr. Biden made the announcement around noon on Friday. But before it was made official, reaction already started pouring in. Members of the Utah congressional delegation roundly criticized the news, decrying the decision. 

“Yet again, Utah’s national monuments are being used as a political football between administrations,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted. “The decision to re-expand the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante is a devastating blow to our state, local, and tribal leaders and our delegation.” 

On the other side of the debate, Woody Lee, executive director of Utah Diné Bikéyah issued a statement supporting the move. 

“Utah Diné Bikéyah celebrates the Bears Ears National Monument restoration. We also acknowledge the challenging times our native communities are having right now which makes this achievement bittersweet but a welcome and hopeful change for the future. We appreciate all the support and hard work of many people, organizations, leaders, and supporters who have helped advance our mission of healing the land and the people,” Lee said.  

Supporters rally downtown

Dozens gathered inside a banquet hall at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City this morning. They watched the announcement on a pair of projector screens. 

Many held the signature yellow “Keep Utah Wild” signs from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). 

The room in the mood was celebratory and erupted in cheers and applause after President Biden announced his executive orders. 

“We’re elated,” said Steve Bloch, legal director for SUWA. “These federal lands are Americans’ birthright.” 

SUWA has been a vocal proponent of preserving national monuments, like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. It was also vehemently opposed to reductions made to the areas by the Trump administration.

“I think the right to view what the Trump administration did, what the president did, is as an aberration. I think history will come down on the side of preserving and protecting these lands,” Bloch said.  

Utah politicians have threatened legal action against the Biden administration’s plans. Bloch says SUWA and many other groups will be there every step of the way to fight them. 

A game of political football? 

The “political football” of the national monuments began during the Clinton administration. President Bill Clinton surprised a number of Utah leaders when he used his executive power to establish Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. 

The Obama administration established the Bears Ears National Monument, but President Trump reduced the size of both monuments using the same executive power in 2017. 

Mr. Biden’s executive order once again restores both monuments to their original size. 

KSL has a reporter in San Juan County Friday covering the announcement and its ramifications. Tune to Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News from 3 to 7 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio for the latest

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Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante announcement likely to draw both praise and ire