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Photo of rock formations at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.
Escalante Devils Garden in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah. © Drew Rush

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Two National Monuments Should Be Restored, Says The Nature Conservancy

As U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited Utah today, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) supported reinstating the original boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. TNC opposed former President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to dramatically shrink the two monuments, and noted the action was inconsistent with the intent of the Antiquities Act – an important law that provides a foundation for conservation efforts by providing authority to the president to protect outstanding natural, cultural and historic sites from imminent threat.

“The action to shrink the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments, which The Nature Conservancy strongly opposed, went beyond simple boundary adjustments. It was a direct challenge to the Antiquities Act itself,” said Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “As the largest private landowner in Bears Ears National Monument, The Nature Conservancy supports restoring the boundaries of both monuments. The lands released from protection by President Trump should be returned to monument status, and the purposes of the Antiquities Act upheld. Reinstating the original boundaries should also be accompanied by significant funding to ensure the proper management and stewardship of these lands.”

The lands released from protection by President Trump should be returned to monument status, and the purposes of the Antiquities Act upheld.

Jennifer Morris CEO of The Nature Conservancy

President Joe Biden issued an executive order early this year to review Trump’s decision and require Haaland to make recommendations about the boundaries and management of the monuments. Her visit to the area will help inform those recommendations.

“Shrinking national monuments is the wrong direction for our country,” Morris added, “Americans employed by the farming, ranching, forestry, fishing and recreation industries rely on healthy lands and waters for their livelihoods. National monument designations boost local economies, provide recreation opportunities, protect wildlife habitat and improve the health and well-being of the American people.”

In Utah, presidents dating back to Theodore Roosevelt have used the Antiquities Act 12 times to protect sites under threat, including iconic places such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Capitol Reef, later designated as national parks by Congress. All 12 of the sites remain vital to Utah’s economy, protecting irreplaceable natural, cultural, and historic sites while providing substantial tourism revenue to local communities. President Trump’s December 2017 executive order to shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments by 50% and 84% respectively is currently undergoing legal challenges.

TNC is the largest private landowner in Bears Ears National Monument, operating the Dugout Ranch and Canyonlands Research Center to study climate science, sustainable land use and agriculture in the region. TNC champions collaborative conservation efforts to achieve legislated public lands designations as a first choice and recognizes that in cases when Congress is unable to act, the Antiquities Act must remain a vital option to achieve permanent public lands protection. TNC participated with the Utah congressional delegation and partners to protect threatened lands and sites in the Bears Ears region through the Public Lands Initiative – a multi-year, collaborative effort to legislate needed protections. Unfortunately, carefully negotiated language in the Public Lands Initiative bill was changed at the last minute, causing it to fail. This prompted President Barack Obama, after public meetings and consultation with tribes and other land users in the region, to exercise his authority under the Antiquities Act, creating Bears Ears National Monument. 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.