In 2016, then-President Barack Obama designated a National Monument in southeastern Utah to protect over a million acres of land under the Antiquities Act. In 2017, the next president, Donald Trump, split the territory and reduced its size significantly in order to access areas for resource extraction. Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed to expand Bears Ears again under the Antiquities Act and restore its original size. Biden made the decision under advice from his Secretary of the Department of Interior Deb Haaland. Protecting and restricting the land has been highly contested for the past few years, so the ensuing debate after Biden’s decision did not take anyone by surprise.
Outdoors activists, conservationists, recreation enthusiasts, and many members of local Native tribes stand steadfastly in support for the monument. According to Outside Online, It works to restore air quality and water quality, support the fragile ecosystem, and preserve the oil and coal under the surface of the desert. It bans commercial fishing and fulfills a Biden campaign promise. But, does it break others?
The Guardian reports that GOP representatives in Congress were, unsurprisingly, quick to oppose Biden’s reversal of Trump policy. Although some argue in favor that the new protections obstruct us from coal and oil, some also maintain that the policy needed more local input. When Biden took office, one of his biggest lines was about “bridging the gap” and restoring unity to the country. Does his protection of Bear’s Ears follow through on that promise?
In a report from the Utah congressional delegation, however, the Bear’s Ears restoration was called a “divisive proclamation” that deterred a more “permanent legislative solution” to the fluctuating borders of the monument. According to the Utah legislators, in 2016, “[Obama] swept over 1.3 million acres of land in San Juan county–the poorest county in Utah– into a national monument overnight...once again without local input.” It could make a “bulls-eye” of the historical land and attract looters and tourists to the land. The legislators even argue that it “fails to include the crucial input and involvement of local tribes.”
Do you think Biden and Haaland did the right thing by protecting this historically significant piece of Indigenous land, or could they have done better with listening to the voices of local governments?