Biden Restores Protections at Three Monuments, Reversing Trump

Biden Restores Protections at Three Monuments, Reversing Trump

President Joe Biden ordered the restoration of environmental protections at three national monuments that had been reduced by former President Donald Trump. 

Biden signed executive actions reversing Trump’s decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by almost half. Both are in Utah. Biden also restored protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, the Atlantic Ocean’s only national marine monument.

“Protection of public lands must not become a pendulum that swings back and forth depending on who’s in office,” Biden said Friday at the White House. “It’s not a partisan issue.”

Friday’s announcement comes as Biden is looking to bolster his environmental record ahead of next month’s international climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. On Thursday, the White House released plans developed by more than 20 federal departments and agencies outlining steps they planned to take to make their facilities and operations more resilient to climate change.

The southeast Utah monuments -- established during the Clinton and Obama administrations -- have long been sources of controversy. Environmental groups and Native American tribal leaders say the protections are crucial to conservation efforts, while Republican officials in the state say the federal intervention harms the region’s ranching, mining, timber and energy industries. 

Utah Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, said Thursday that the state may challenge the administration’s effort to restore the monuments in court.

“The purpose of the Antiquities Act is to protect the ‘smallest area compatible with the care and management’ of significant archaeological or historical objects to be protected. We agree and will consider all available legal options to that end,” Cox’s office said in a statement.

Biden said Friday that natural lands need to be protected. “The truth is and national monuments and parks are part of our identity as a people,” he said.

In 2017, Trump shrank Bears Ears from its original 1.35 million acres to about 201,000 acres, and Grand Staircase-Escalante from 1.87 million acres to about 1 million acres. 

The Bears Ears monument protects a vast region of canyons and mesas replete with Native American cultural and sacred sites that tribes have urged Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, to protect.

Grand Staircase-Escalante, created in 1996, was one of the most politically explosive conservation moves of the last 30 years because Utah’s Republicans portrayed it as a massive land grab, blocking coal mining, oil drilling and cattle grazing on public land.

By rolling back protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England, the Trump administration had hoped to open the area to increased commercial fishing.

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