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Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante Monuments on the Path to Restoration

Posted: 02/09/2021
By: Hattie Johnson

As a part of the day one executive order on “Protecting Public Health and Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis”, the new administration directed the Secretary of the Interior - along with the Attorney General, Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce, the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and Tribal Governments - to review the boundary changes made by the previous administration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. A report will be provided to the President with recommended appropriate actions. This review and subsequent report will determine whether or not the original boundaries of both Monuments should be restored. 


In December of 2017, the previous administration shrunk those monument boundaries by nearly 85%, just one year after their original designation. At that time, American Whitewater analyzed the number of river miles affected by this reduction. Bears Ears lost protections for 28.4 miles of the original 34 miles of the San Juan and Colorado Rivers in the change. In Grand Staircase-Escalante, all off the Paria River (5.5 miles) was removed from protection while all of the Escalante remained covered. This loss in protected river miles along with the loss of designated lands opened this incredible landscape up to resource extraction such as mining for coal and drilling for oil and natural gas. This map illustrates how the changes in monument boundaries affect whitewater paddling and other outdoor recreation.


Those lucky enough to float the Goosenecks of the San Juan know how stunning this river is. The petroglyphs and ancient dwellings provide a small glimpse into a people who lived by the ebb and flow of this amazing river. For many of members of the Bears Ears Tribal Council, these archaeological sites are sacred, provide a source of food and medicine and a direct connection to their ancestors. Lasting, permanent preservation of these rivers and lands is not without conflict. Utah leaders have long opposed protection of these landscapes, however, recently local governments have supported and asked the Biden Administration to reestablish the original boundaries.


American Whitewater will remain engaged and supportive of the restoration of these national monuments. We will keep paddlers informed on the review process and how you can speak up for these rivers.

American Whitewater

Hattie Johnson

Phone: 970-456-8533
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