Public Land Protections to Be Restored at 2 National Monuments

At Campendium, we love and value public lands. The public lands held in trust for the American people are places of natural beauty and historic importance. We appreciate the access that these lands provide for camping, recreation, relaxation, and as a place to spend time with our friends and family.

Because of our affinity for public lands, it definitely caught our attention when yesterday, it was announced that public land protections will be restored at Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. What is this announcement all about? How does it affect camping and recreational opportunities? Here’s what we know so far.

Aerial view of endless red rocks with a road through it.
Photo by: Sara Sheehy

The Story of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments

Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were both created under the 1906 Antiquities Act. According to the National Park Service Archeology Program, the Antiquities Act “gives the President the authority to set aside for protection ‘historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States.’” 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was designated by former President Bill Clinton in 1996 and Bears Ears National Monument was designated by former President Barack Obama in 2016. The designations faced both fierce support and fierce opposition inside and outside of Utah, where the monuments are located.

In 2017, both of the national monuments were significantly reduced in size by former President Donald Trump. Bears Ears, which was established in 2016, shrunk from 1.35 million acres to 201,397 acres, or to about 15% of its original size. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was reduced from 1.87 million acres to just around one million acres. These reductions, like the original designations, were highly contentious. 

Upon taking office in early 2020, President Joe Biden tasked the Department of the Interior to review the size reductions and recommend a path forward. After meeting with Members of Congress, state and local government officials, representatives of Tribal nations, and a variety of local stakeholders, current Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland recommended the reinstatement of the two monument’s original boundaries.

Red and white natural formation of a toad stool against a blue sky.
Photo by: Sara Sheehy

Restoring the National Monuments

On October 8, 2021, President Biden announced an action to restore the original acreage of both monuments. 

Bears Ears National Monument’s total protected area now encompasses 1.36 million acres, which includes the original boundaries of the monument plus an additional 11,200 acres that were added in 2017 by former President Trump. The administration has also restored the Bears Ears Commission, a group of Tribal representatives who are tasked with providing guidance and recommendations on the management of the monument.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is returning to its original size of 1.87 million acres.

No information has been released to date about the specific impacts or opportunities for recreation in relation to the restoration of either national monument.

Juniper covered desert landscape with large mesas in the background.
Photo by: Sara Sheehy

All About Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante

Bears Ears National Monument is managed jointly by the US Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to enhance recreational opportunities, protect important cultural resources, and restore fish and wildlife habitat. The monument is popular for hiking, climbing, hunting, fishing, and driving off-highway vehicles. Due to ecological and cultural sensitivities, areas of the monument require a permit or pass to visit.

Though there is limited road access to Bears Ears, camping options abound at the southern edge of the monument. Check out the unique campsites at Natural Bridges Abandoned Airstrip, the vista of the Bears Ears mesas at Bears Ears View, and the great hiking at Mule Canyon.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is managed by the BLM and recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. It is a remote, rugged landscape filled with slot canyons, arches, natural bridges, and monoliths. Most of the monument is only accessible on foot, but there are beautiful scenic drives (both paved and dirt) to explore, too.

A guy and his dog running next to their converted school bus in the desert.
Hole in the Rock | Escalante, UT – Photo by: Vicaribus

You’ll find quiet, off-the-beaten-path camping options in and around Grand Staircase-Escalante. Favorites include Hole in the Rock, the Escalante Heritage Center, and White House Trailhead & Campground.

From Muir Woods to Devil’s Tower, national monuments are public lands to cherish, protect, and enjoy. We hope to see you out exploring one soon!