WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden will restore two sprawling national monuments in Utah that have been at the center of a long-standing dispute over public lands, and a separate marine conservation area in New England that was recently used for commercial fishing . The environmental protections of the three monuments had been removed by former President Donald Trump.
The White House announced the changes Thursday night ahead of an expected ceremony Friday.
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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, has expressed disappointment over Biden’s decision to restore the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments, which the Trump administration significantly reduced in 2017.
The monuments cover vast expanses of southern Utah where red rocks reveal petroglyphs and rock dwellings and distinctive knolls rise from a grassy valley. Trump invoked the century-old Antiquities Act to cut off 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) from the two monuments, calling restrictions on mining and other energy production a “massive land grab” that “n ‘should never have happened’.
His actions reduced Bears Ears, on land considered sacred by Native American tribes, to just over 200,000 acres (80,900 hectares) by 85%. They cut Grand Staircase-Escalante in almost half, leaving it at around 1 million acres (405,000 hectares). Both monuments were created by Democratic presidents.
The White House said in a statement that Biden was “fulfilling a key promise” to restore monuments to their actual size and “to uphold the long-standing principle that U.S. national parks, monuments and other protected areas must be protected forever and for all. “
His actions were part of a series of measures taken by the administration to protect public lands and waters, the White House said, including measures to end the leasing of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and to prevent road construction in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest federal forest in the country.
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 had changed the rules to allow commercial fishing at the Marine Monument, an action heralded by fishing groups but derided by environmentalists who pushed Biden and Home Secretary Deb Haaland to restore fishing protections.
The protection of the marine monument protects “this invaluable area for the fragile species that live there” and demonstrates the administration’s commitment to science, said Jen Felt, director of the ocean campaign for the Conservation Law Foundation.
Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva, Democrat and chairman of the House natural resources committee, also praised the Biden administration in a statement, saying the restoration of the monuments shows its commitment to “conserving our public lands and respect the voices of indigenous peoples â.
âIt’s time to put Trump’s cynical actions in the rearview mirror,â Grijalva said.
But the governor of Utah called Biden’s decision a “tragic missed opportunity.” The president’s action “does not provide the certainty or funding for law enforcement, research and other protections that monuments need and that only the action of Congress can provide,” Cox said in a statement issued with other heads of state.
Utah Senator Mitt Romney also criticized Biden, saying in a tweet that the president had “wasted the opportunity to reach consensus” and find a permanent solution for the monuments.
âAgain, Utah’s national monuments are used as political football between administrations,â Romney said Thursday. âThe decision to push the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante is a devastating blow to our state, local and tribal leaders and our delegationâ¦
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Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group, also applauded Biden’s decision and said she hoped it was a first step towards her goal of keeping at least 30%. of the land and oceans of the United States by 2030.
“Thank you, President Biden,” Rokala said in a statement. âYou have listened to the Native tribes and the American people and made sure that these landscapes will be protected for generations to come. “
Trump’s cuts have ironically increased national attention to Bears Ears, Rokala said. She called on the federal government to increase funding to manage the landscape and deal with the growing crowds.
Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet Secretary, traveled to Utah in April to visit the monuments, becoming the last federal official to engage in what has been a multi-year public land battle. It submitted its recommendations on monuments in June.
In a statement Thursday, Haaland said she had the “distinct honor of speaking with many people who care deeply about this land” during her trip to Utah.
âThe historic connection between Indigenous peoples and Bears Ears is undeniable; our Native American ancestors have supported each other in the landscape since time immemorial, and evidence of their rich life is everywhere you look, âsaid Haaland, member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.
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 the tribes.
The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which lobbied for its restoration, said the monument’s twin mounds are considered a place of worship for many tribes. The group includes the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Indian Tribe.
“President Biden has done what it takes to restore the Bears Ears National Monument,” coalition member Shaun Chapoose and chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee said in a statement. âFor us, the Monument has never disappeared. We will always return to these lands to manage and care for our sacred sites, our waters and our medicines. “
The Trump administration’s cuts to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante have paved the way for possible coal and oil and gas drilling on land that was previously off-limits. However, activity was limited due to market forces.
Conservative heads of state considered the size of the two monuments the US government exceeded and applauded the cuts.
Environmental, tribal, paleontological and outdoor recreation organizations have taken legal action to restore their original boundaries, arguing that presidents lacked the legal authority to alter monuments created by their predecessors. Meanwhile, Republicans have argued that Democratic presidents abused the Antiquities Act signed by President Theodore Roosevelt to designate monuments beyond what is necessary to protect archaeological and cultural resources.
The Biden administration said the decision to revise the monuments was part of a larger plan to tackle climate change and reverse the Trump administration’s “harmful” policies.
Fishing groups opposed both Obama’s creation of the Oceanic Monument and the process he used to create it.
“These fishing areas are a bit heavy, a bit time-consuming, but which brings together all the players,” said Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
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