In the wake of Indigenous People’s Day, President Biden has restored full protections to Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante in southeastern Utah. Protections were also granted to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the New England coast.

Bears Ears National Monument

The 1.36 million acres that make up Bears Ears National Monument remain one of the most ecologically intact and least-roaded regions in the United States. Thus, the area acts as a refuge for threatened, endangered, and rare species of wildlife, fish, and plants. The landscape of Bears Ears is surrounded by the Colorado River to the west and the San Juan river towards the south and offers World-class fishing. The landscape is painted with sandstone canyons, vast mesas, and iconic buttes.

This land is also sacred to the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, and Zuni Tribal Nations. Bears Ears National Monument is a treasured landscape rich in cultural ties and artifacts like cave dwellings, petroglyphs, and ceremonial sites. These and many more were left from the Indigenous peoples who occupied the region before much of time as we know it. The precious sites remain infamous to vandalism from visitors, leaving permanent destructions to the lands. The land is also suspected to be rich in uranium, peaking the interest of mining companies.

Potential Indigenous dwellings in the mountain side
Panoramic view of possible Indigenous dwellings. Photo by: Bob Wick, BLM

Grand Staircase-Escalante

1.87 million acres of extraordinary and eye-catching terrain, also located in southeast Utah, were re-protected with the executive order. The national monument was originally created in 1996 by President Clinton. However, during the Trump administration the monument’s size was cut nearly in half in order to open the land up to potential coal mining operations. The landscape holds significant importance to both Indigenous peoples and the community of Latter-Day Saints.

Devil’s Garden Arch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park. Photo by: Bob Wick, BLM

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

The first and only National Marine Monument is located in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod. Nearly 5,000 square miles, an area the size of the state of Conneticut, make up the monument. There are three undersea canyons and four mountains (known as seamounts) protected in the region. One of the canyons, Oceanographer Canyon, is as big as the Grand Canyon and has some phenomenal offshore fishing! Under the new protections, recreational fishing is still allowed but commercial fishing is banned. In 2016, the Obama administration created the National Momument in efforts to protect the vast oceanic biodiversity in the area. These protections were withdrawn by the Trump administration but are now being reinstated.

Secretary of Commerce, who oversees NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service, Gina Raimondo, states that “The rich diversity of species in the monument include rare and endangered marine life—from deep-sea corals and fish, to whales and sea turtles—that continue to be threatened by the climate crisis. With this proclamation we acknowledge the importance to protecting their ongoing contributions to scientific knowledge, ecosystem health, and the sustainability of our planet.”

This map of the NECSMNM shows some of the submarine canyons that cut into the deep seafloor of the continental margin of the eastern United States, and the seamounts offshore. The habitat characteristic of these geological features is discontinuous, with communities isolated by the sediment-covered slope between them. Photo courtesy of NOAA and USFWS.

The new order does not come without tensions. Utah representatives argue that a more collaborative approach should have been taken within Congress to ensure long-term protections for the area. The issued statement reads “President Biden’s decision to expand the monuments is disappointing, though not surprising. For the past ten months, we have consistently offered to work with the Biden Administration on a permanent, legislative solution, one that would end the perpetual enlarging and shrinking of these monuments and bring certainty to their management…”

While permanent protections will likely be a conversation to still be had, right now there’s reason to celebrate the restoration of these National Monuments and increased preservation.

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