President Joe Biden has signed proclamations to expand the perimeters of several national monuments, a move that will alter the management of millions of acres of western lands.

Specifically, Biden restored protections created during the Democratic administrations for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah as well as the Seamounts Marine National Monuments in the Atlantic Ocean. 

“This may be the easiest thing I’ve ever done as president,” Biden said at a White House ceremony Friday.

“The protection of public lands must not become a pendulum that swings back and forth depending on who’s in public office,” he added.

The Trump administration shrank the monuments in 2017, arguing that returning control to state and local entities was a better management approach.

Biden said he discussed the move with Utah’s two senators – Republicans Mike Lee and Mitt Romney – prior to the public announcement. He said the pair “didn’t agree with what I was doing, but they were gracious and polite about it.” In a statement, the two senators were joined by the state's four House Republicans — Blake Moore, Chris Stewart, John Curtis and Burgess Owens — in saying Biden "is delivering a devastating blow to the ongoing efforts by our delegation, along with state, local, and tribal leaders, to find a permanent, legislative solution to resolve the longstanding dispute over the boundaries and management of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments." 

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"Rather than take the opportunity to build unity in a divided region and bring resources and lasting protections to sacred antiquities by seeking a mutually beneficial and permanent legislative solution, President Biden fanned the flames of controversy and ignored input from the communities closest to these monuments," they said. "We will continue to support efforts to ensure that our monuments’ boundaries and management reflect the unique stakeholder interest and uses in the area, but today’s 'winner take all' mentality moved us further away from that goal.”

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was among the Cabinet secretaries present at the White House event Friday and said the move recognizes the importance of the land to Native populations.

“The historical connection between Indigenous peoples and Bears Ears is undeniable; our Native American ancestors sustained themselves on the landscape since time immemorial and evidence of their rich lives is everywhere one looks,” she said. “This living landscape must be protected so that all Americans have the profound opportunity to learn and cherish our history.” 

But Public Lands Council Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover said monument designations can “lead to the kind of preservation strategies that we know from experience do not support healthy ecosystems long-term.”

“Conservation is more than signing a piece of paper and considering the matter closed,” she added. “Conservation requires long-term planning. Conservation requires active management. Conservation requires the help and investment of knowledgeable land users, local residents, and state leaders who can perform the day-to-day work of maintaining landscapes and ecosystems. We will deliver that message to President Biden and his team as many times as needed.”

A release from PLC and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association also argued the expansions were in conflict with language in the Antiquities Act — under which monument designations are made — calling for the “'smallest area compatible' with the desired protections.”

Despite the NCBA and PLC frustrations, several environmental groups praised the move.

Chris Hill, director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, said the action “fulfills a promise to Tribal Nations and reaffirms its commitment to addressing the overlapping biodiversity and climate crises. The decision is a renewed commitment to the stewardship these places deserve.”

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said Biden’s action “is safeguarding lands of cultural significance for five sovereign Tribal nations, conserving important wildlife habitat, and ensuring that future generations will be able to experience these lands and waters for generations to come.”

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