When traveling in the United States, it’s impossible not to marvel at the immense amount of nature contained within our borders. From soaring peaks to rushing rivers and rugged coastlines to stunning beaches, the diverse ecosystems leave onlookers with a deep sense of awe and respect for the natural world around us.
This jaw-dropping admiration has been made possible, not just by the geological and evolutionary process that have shaped our landscape, but also by the foresight of past generations, who have recognized the need to set aside special places for conservation. Without protection, we wouldn’t be able to experience the rock formations, canyons, natural arches, prehistoric artifacts, fossils and hundreds of species in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante. Generations of Americans would also be deprived of the opportunity to climb, hike and view ancient cliff dwellings and cave art in Bear Ears, which is also in Utah. For the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Pueblo of Zuni— all of which encouraged President Barack Obama to designate Bears Ears’ 1.35 million acres as a national monument — their sacred lands would be decimated without safeguards.
Across the country, similar intervention has been needed for New England’s Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, which is an underwater marvel. While most Americans will not experience this wild ocean space, knowing that we’ve protected a haven for whales, dolphins, sea stars and black coral should make us proud.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Obama recognized these areas’ importance when they designated them national monuments.
But over the past few years, the future of these important areas was put in jeopardy. In 2017, President Donald Trump used the Antiquities Act in an unprecedented way to drastically shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Not only was this decision environmentally irresponsible, it defied public opinion. Ninety-eight percent of the record-breaking 2.8 million public comments to the U.S. Interior Department asked the federal government to maintain or expand protections for these and the other national monuments that were under review by the Trump administration.
Then, in 2020, President Trump rolled back protections against commercial fishing within the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, once again threatening the delicate ecological balance of this hotspot for ocean life.
Thankfully, Americans would not accept these decisions. Since the Trump administration first took steps to erase protections for these incredible places, Environment America’s national network mobilized the public and generated more than 436,700 messages to decision makers, helping to turn the tide in favor of preservation.
In 2018, a field organizing team kicked into gear to ensure that an additional 10 monuments didn’t end up on the chopping block. We mobilized activists in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico to build public support for retaining protection for the monuments in those states, collecting thousands of petitions, getting media coverage and organizing hikes in the monuments.
Colorado activists at Browns Canyon National Monument
And when the Biden administration came into office, one of our first requests was that it restore protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. And we quickly followed that request by organizing the public to call for full restorations for both Utah monuments. To continue the drumbeat of public support, we generated digital petitions to the Department of the Interior; organized a “Meet the Monuments” webinar for members of the public to learn more about all three monuments; published an opinion piece calling for the restoration of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts’ protections; and met with Department of the Interior staff to make the case for reinstating safeguards. We were not alone. Dozens of Native American tribes, environmental advocates, aquariums and outdoor recreation groups mobilized their supporters to call on the Biden administration to act.
The result: President Biden has now restored protections for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts.
Our country has a long history of ensuring ‘America the Beautiful’ exists for generations to come. We can rest assured that Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts will remain a part of that lasting legacy. And because all three of these monuments protect biodiversity and critical habitat, this victory will help the U.S. move closer to protecting 30% of our important lands and waters. We need more nature and President Biden’s actions for these areas have brought us closer to a country with more opportunities to preserve and enjoy nature for today, tomorrow and generations to come.
Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America Research & Policy Center
Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.
Director, Protect Our Oceans Campaign, Environment America Research & Policy Center
Kelsey directs Environment America's national campaigns to protect our oceans. Kelsey lives in Boston, where she enjoys cooking, reading and exploring the city.