SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – This week, President Biden announced the creation of the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument, which is the fifth national monument formed under his administration. This latest designation covers over 917,000 acres, making it the largest new national monument for a first-term president.
The previous national monuments created by the Biden administration were:
- The Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument (July 2023 – over 5 acres)
- The Avi Kwa Ame National Monument (March 2023 – over 506,000 acres)
- The Castner Range National Monument (March 2023 – over 6,600 acres)
- The Camp Hale — Continental Divide National Monument (October 2022 – around 53,800 acres)
The Utah Attorney General’s Office has actively opposed the Biden administration’s efforts. In 2022, General Reyes filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah against President Biden’s unlawful designation of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. The case argued that the size of the two national monuments, covering vast landscapes of a combined 3.2 million acres, violated the Antiquities Act of 1906, which limits U.S. presidents to creating monuments “confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Both national monuments were created under the Clinton and Obama administrations, respectively. President Clinton designated approximately 1.7 million acres for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and President Obama reserved about 1.35 million acres. In 2017, Utah state legislators passed two resolutions to reflect their constituents’ frustration with the reservations, urging then-President Donald Trump to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument in full and to modify the boundaries of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. President Trump reduced the two reservations (a combined 1.11 million acres) later that year to allow for more targeted protection of specific sites and to revive the multiple-use approach in the remaining areas.
However, in October 2021, President Biden issued two proclamations that substantially enlarged the borders of both National Monuments. Under the Biden administration’s new designations, the land included in the Bears Ears National Monument was 1.36 million acres, and the land included in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was 1.87 acres. Combined, the 3.23 million acres of land encompassed by the reservations were twice as large as Delaware, four times larger than Rhode Island, and just shy of the size of Connecticut. As stated by AG Reyes:
Once again, President Biden expansively oversteps his authority under the Antiquities Act. As we have argued in our lawsuit challenging similar actions in Utah, we view protecting natural, cultural, and scientific features as a significant state stewardship. But the Act itself requires designation of the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of such interests.
In Utah, the lands being designated certainly have great value, including archeological, religious, recreational, commercial, and other uses that need to be respected and protected. But the Antiquities Act was not intended to be the vehicle for Presidents to unilaterally encumber massive tracts of land to the detriment of the very things they purport to protect.
Rather than guarding these diverse resources and uses, President Biden’s unlawful designations place all of them at greater risk as they fail to provide the funding and tools necessary to adequately conserve, protect, or manage them.
Congress is the appropriate place to bring local residents, tribes, leaders, and other interests together to evaluate how to best use and protect our public lands. Unfortunately, this designation in Arizona, like those in Utah, ignores the reasonable solution these diverse voices could produce and does so in conflict with the law.
AG Reyes recently joined two comment letters to the Bureau of Land Management opposing its proposed “Conservation and Landscape Health” rule on the grounds that the new policies would be “bad policy, unlawful, and would inflict immediate injuries on State, public, and small business interests.” Ben Burr, the Executive Director of the BlueRibbon Coalition, stated that this rule would essentially “sell off public lands to environmental groups who schemed up the 30 x 30 agenda,” which is an attempt to “justify locking up 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2023.”