October 23, 2021

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Tribes urge Biden to take ‘immediate action’ to restore Bears Ears Nat’l Monument boundaries

Stone dwellings in the Cedar Mesa area of Bears Ears National Monument.

Back in June, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recommended that President Biden restore the boundaries of three national monuments: Grand Staircase-Escalante, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996; Bears Ears, designated by President Barack Obama in 2016; and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, the nation’s first marine national monument, also designated by Obama in 2016. Donald Trump had significantly reduced their boundaries after assuming office, a move that prompted several lawsuits that are still working their way through the courts.

Most legal authorities who have weighed in on the subject assert that the move to shrink the monuments was done contrary to the statute that makes downsizing monuments or disestablishing one altogether the responsibility of Congress.

Last week, citing their respectful patience so far, representatives of the five-tribe Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition that played a major part in getting Bears Ears in southeastern Utah designated a national monument, sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking for “immediate action” on Haaland’s recommendation for the monument. An excerpt :

Each day that passes without national monument protection for numerous sacred sites and irreplaceable cultural resources risks desecration, looting, vandalism, and misinformed visitation to an area that contains the exact kind of antiquities that inspired the creation of the Antiquities Act. These artifacts considered by us to be messages our ancestors meant for us to see and incorporate as lessons into our present, are literally being erased. […]

Our patience is being further tested by the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) and United States Forest Service (“USFS”), jointmanagers of the reduced monument, which have both continued with an array of planning activities, while indicating an ability to to work directly with the Coalition on management issues and planning activities until executive action is taken by you. […] These planning activities, which include now water wells to expand opportunities for cattle grazing and an increase in permitting for motorized recreation and hardening and expansion of campgrounds, have been undertaken without us being collaboratively engaged and we do not want them to become effectively a fait accompli.

The coalition letter also notes that hard rock mining claims are continuing within the original boundaries of Bears Ears. The delay in taking action, it states, means real harm, some of it permanent, is taking place right now.

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