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Photo:Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management
Environmental protection cuts were common under the Trump administration. Photo: Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management

Biden bucks Trump again, restores protections for three national monuments

Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts national monuments were stripped of their status under the previous administration.

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President Joe Biden will sign three proclamations restoring protections for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments, according to a recent fact sheet released by the White House. 

"By restoring these national monuments, which were significantly cut back during the previous administration, President Biden is fulfilling a key promise and upholding the longstanding principle that America's national parks, monuments, and other protected areas are to be protected for all time and for all people," the fact sheet read.

The decision is a reversal of a Trump-era policy that shrunk the Bears Ears monument by 85% and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by roughly 45%. 

Bears Ears was established by former President Barack Obama and Grand Staircase-Escalante was established by former President Bill Clinton. 

The two former presidents designated the Utah monuments for protection in efforts to preserve its culture, history and natural beauty. In 2017, Trump criticized past administrations for what he called “federal overreach” in thinking that the state’s natural resources “should be controlled by a very small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington.” 

The Utah monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, have been on Biden’s agenda from the start. On his first day in office, he ordered a review of their boundaries and conditions. 

According to the fact sheet, members of the Biden administration met with Congress members, state and local government officials, representatives of Tribal Nations and a “wide range of stakeholders” as part of its review. 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary, traveled to the state in April to visit the monuments, and submitted her recommendations in June. 

In a statement released Thursday, Oct. 7, Haaland said she has the “distinct honor to speak with many people who deeply care about this land” during her trip to Utah. 

"The historical connection between Indigenous peoples and Bears Ears is undeniable; our Native American ancestors sustained themselves on the landscape since time immemorial, and evidence of their rich lives is everywhere one looks," Haaland said. 

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, an environmentalist organization, also hailed Biden’s decision and said she hopes it will be the first step towards his goal to conserve at least 30% of U.S. lands and ocean by 2030. 

“You have listened to Indigenous tribes and the American people and ensured these landscapes will be protected for generations to come,” Rokala said in a statement.

Bear Ears National Monument will be restored to 1.36 million acres and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be restored to 1.87 million acres.

Protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument off the coast of New England will also be restored.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, who has ancestral ties to Bears Ears, said in a statement that the landscape is not only a historical and cultural site, but a space that has provided refuge for his people in times of conflict. 

"Bears Ears is sacred and it deserves to be protected," Nez said. 

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