President Joe Biden restored the protected national monuments of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante on Friday after former President Trump drastically reduced them in a bid to open more sensitive public lands to ranching, exploitation mining and oil drilling.
The president also re-established a marine conservation area off the New England coast that Trump opened to commercial fishing.
“(The ruling upholds) the long-standing principle that America’s national parks, monuments and other protected areas must be protected forever and for all.” The White House said in a statement ahead of a ceremony scheduled for Friday.
Utah’s monuments cover vast expanses of southern Utah that include ancient Native American petroglyphs, rock dwellings, and distinctive knolls that rise dramatically from a grassy valley.
Trump in 2017 cut nearly 2 million acres from the two majestic monuments, calling federal restrictions on mining and other energy production a “massive land grab.” Staircase-Escalante cut in half.
Home Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet Secretary, traveled to Utah in April to tour the monuments, wading through what has been a years-long public lands battle.
“The historical connection between Indigenous peoples and Bears Ears is undeniable,” Haaland said. “Our Native American ancestors have supported each other in the landscape since time immemorial, and proof of their rich life is everywhere you look.”
Biden’s plan also restores the National Monument’s protections of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Cape Cod. Trump decided to allow commercial fishing at the marine monument, an action that was heralded by fishing groups but ridiculed by environmentalists.
The Republican Gov. of Utah, Spencer Cox, called Biden’s decision a “tragic missed opportunity.”
“(It) does not provide the certainty or funding for law enforcement, research and other protections that monuments need,” Cox said in a statement released with other heads of state.
Former President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears a national monument in 2016, 20 years after former President Bill Clinton decided to protect Grand Staircase-Escalante. Bears Ears was the first site to receive the designation at the specific request of Native American tribes.
“For us, the monument has never disappeared,” Shaun Chapoose, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee, said in a statement. “We will always return to these lands to manage and care for our sacred sites, our waters and our medicines. “