President Biden is on the brink of setting a conservation record

Sep 28, 2023

By Lilly Bock-Brownstein

Three years in, President Joe Biden is on track to set the record for the most public land protected by any recent president in their first term. Biden has designated five new national monuments, protecting nearly 1.5 million acres of public land using the Antiquities Act. Through these designations, President Biden is making strides toward the national goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s public lands by 2030. Creating another large national monument before the 2024 election would solidify his position as the modern president with the greatest first-term conservation achievement.

In just 12 months, President Biden has designated Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni — Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in Arizona, Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada, Castner Range National Monument in Texas, Camp Hale — Continental Divide National Monument in Colorado, and Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument in Illinois and Mississippi. The first four of these monuments are large landscapes that will now permanently protect important wildlife habitats, provide access to outdoor recreation, and honor Tribal cultural sites and artifacts. With these designations, Biden has protected 1.5 million acres of public land as national monuments and is closing in on President Bill Clinton, who protected 1.7 million acres in his first term.

President Biden still needs to protect at least 215,000 more acres in order to set the record among recent presidents. President Clinton’s 1.7 million acres came entirely from Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which he designated in September 1996, shortly before his re-election. While President Barack Obama designated about 5.7 million acres of national monuments on public land over the entire course of his presidency, by the end of his first term he had only designated about 20,000 acres (Fort Monroe, Fort Ord, Chimney Rock, and Cesar E. Chavez National Monuments). President George H.W. Bush did not establish any monuments in his first and only term. The same is true for President George W. Bush in his first term, though he did designate several large marine national monuments in his second term.

If instead of looking across the entire first term, these presidents were compared at this exact point in their first terms — just over two and a half years in — President Biden has easily protected the most acreage, since President Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument near the end of his first term. President Biden is also leading for the number of monuments designated in a first term. President Biden has designated five monuments, followed by President Obama’s four. President Clinton designated just one monument in his first term, though it was a massive landscape. President Trump also designated one small national monument in his first term, but attempted to reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments.

There is no doubt that President Biden is setting an ambitious pace for conservation in his first term. In terms of the number of monuments, he has accomplished more than any other recent president. He now has an opportunity to fully establish himself as the most successful first-term conservation president by setting an acreage record as well. Fortunately, there are a number of opportunities to protect important public lands in the coming months. The proposed Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument in Oregon would add another one million acres to President Biden’s conservation record and safeguard the landscape and parts of the Owyhee River from industrial development and the impacts of climate change. In California, the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument would protect 660,000 acres. Also in California, there is an effort to expand Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument to include the 14,000 acre Molok Luyuk area.

With just over a year left in his first term, President Biden has the opportunity to add to his already impressive conservation record and protect these important landscapes.