Earth.com has previously covered Bear’s Ears National Monument as it was first established, and again when the Trump administration reduced it by 85 percent. The monument is found in southern Utah and shares much the same fate as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, also reduced by Trump.
Now, there is a new chapter in the saga, as the Biden administration has reversed Trump’s reduction of the national monuments. This is a move long hoped for by environmentalists, public land advocates and Native American activists.
A fact sheet from the White House frames the restoration of these national monuments as part of a greater commitment to the environment. The administration has also halted leasing of oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and restored protections to Tongass National Forest. These all point to an attempt to reverse the last administration’s legacy of pilfering the public lands and ignoring any conservation prerogatives.
Over the last year, I’ve traveled from the southern part of Arizona all the way through Utah. Along the way, I hiked through saguaro cacti, descended into the Grand Canyon and watched condors circling cliffs in southern Utah. These are big, beautiful desert areas, places full of Native American ruins, an array of arachnids and dinosaur fossils buried in soft stone. Red cliffs stand in contrast to green yucca and the politics of Utah stands in stark contrast with those of federal lands.
The unfortunate reality is this: states like Utah and Alaska, home of Tongass, are hostile to federal land conservation. Trump has shown us that national monuments can be destroyed, wildlife refuges can be drilled for oil, and roads can be built through old growth forests for profits.
Unless a more permanent fix happens, it seems protection could whipsaw back and forth from one administration to the next. In the meantime, if only one road is built through a forest before the rule is reversed, damage is done. If only one artifact is stolen without adequate protection, damage is done.
As things are now, there’s nothing to stop our public lands from being chipped away bit by bit. We should be grateful that these monuments are restored but make no mistake, the war is far from over.