President Joe Biden restored protections removed by his predecessor for the Bears Ears National Monument, preserving 1.36 million acres in southeast Utah close to the Four Corners area that includes Colorado.
Sacred to natives or the region, advocates on Friday called Bears Ears "one of our nation’s most significant cultural, natural landscapes with thousands of sacred sites and resources supporting local Indigenous tribes," as well has home to world-class rock climbing and other outdoor opportunities.
Biden also restored the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah to its original boundaries, which President Trump drastically in 2017 to allow more economic activity supported by Utah Republicans.
"This may be the easiest thing I've ever done as president, so far," Biden said Friday, before signing the reversal.
Monuments are set aside by presidents and both were designated by Democrats. Bears Ears was a decision by Barack Obama in 2016, and Grand Staircase Escalante was the choice of Bill Clinton.
Trump shrank Bears Ears by 85%, and the boundaries for the Grand Staircase Escalante by about 45%.
Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, as well as local tribes, conservation groups and scientists fought Trump's decision, contending the historic sites and unique ecosystems needed protections the monument designation provides.
"Restoring protections for Bears Ears reaffirms our nation’s commitment to our tribes and to our kids and grandkids, so that they can experience these public lands,” Bennet said in a statement Friday. “I deeply appreciate President Biden’s proclamation because it will preserve our nation’s cultural heritage, and protect this sacred place for generations to come.
"We must now ensure that our nation’s tribes, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, are closely involved in the management of Bears Ears National Monument and I will continue to push for the resources needed to fully protect this landscape.”
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, said he was disappointed by the Biden administration's decision.
"The President's decision to enlarge the monuments again is a tragic missed opportunity," Cox said. "It fails to provide certainty as well as the funding for law enforcement, research, and other protections which the monuments need and which only Congressional action can offer."
In December 2017, the Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, as well as conservation and members of the outdoor recreation industry sued the Trump administration for markedly reducing the Bears Ears' boundaries.