President Biden is less than 100,000 acres away from setting a conservation record

Jun 5, 2024

By Lilly Bock-Brownstein

With the recent expansions of Berryessa Snow Mountain and San Gabriel Mountains national monuments, President Joe Biden is now just 95,500 acres from protecting the most public land using the Antiquities Act of any recent president in their first term.

President Biden has now designated five new national monuments and expanded two, protecting over 1.6 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. Designating just one more large national monument before the end of the year would solidify his position as the modern president with the greatest first-term conservation achievement. There are a multitude of proposals for new national monuments that would accomplish this goal, including 660,000 acres of the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument in California and the million-acre Owyhee Canyonlands proposal in eastern Oregon.

This graph compares acreage protected through new national monument designations by presidents via the Antiquities Act in their first terms. In comparing new national monuments, this analysis does not credit President Biden with the acres from restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments after President Donald Trump’s attempt to shrink them. As critically important as it was to restore these monuments to their full size, it was a reversal of the damage left by President Trump rather than an establishment of new protections.

Since 2022, 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, plus the recently announced expansions for Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument and San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in California. Most 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 1.6 million acres protected as national monuments in his first term, Biden is closing in on the record set by President Bill Clinton, who protected 1.7 million acres in his first term. President Biden has until January 2025 to beat President Clinton’s record by protecting at least 95,500 more acres of public land.

sunset on a rocky ridge

Molok Luyuk, the newly expanded area of Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. Photo by Bob Wick.

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 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.

first term antiquities act national monument designations list

President Biden also deserves credit for designating more monuments than any other recent president in their first term. President Biden has designated five new monuments and two expansions, followed by President Obama’s four. President Clinton designated just one monument in his first term, though it was a massive and important landscape. President Donald Trump also designated one small national monument in his first term but attempted to reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

The president 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 many opportunities to protect important public lands in the coming months. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland recently visited the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument in California — which proposes protections for 660,000 acres — indicating that the administration is seriously considering the proposal. There is also the proposed Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument in Oregon which would add 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. Other possibilities for new national monuments include Sáttítla Medicine Lake Highlands and Kw’tsán in California, Great Bend of the Gila in Arizona, East Las Vegas in Nevada, and Dolores Canyons in Colorado.

mountain landscape

Proposed Chuckwalla National Monument in California. Photo: Center for Western Priorities

With half 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.