U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has called on President Biden to restore both the size and protections given to three national monuments that were slashed and opened to oil and gas exploration and commercial use during the Trump Regime.
The monuments are Bears Ears in southeast Utah, a land of Native American cliff dwellings and burial grounds in southeast Utah; Grand Staircase-Escalante in the canyonlands of southern Utah; and a marine preserve off the New England coast that Trump opened to commercial fishing.
Using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, President Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument in 2016 shortly before leaving office.
President Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1992.
Obama also created the big, 4,913-square mile Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Maritime National Monument off Cape Cod.
Historically allied with the mining industry – all the way back to when Theodore Roosevelt created a Grand Canyon National Monument – politicians in Utah and the Southwest have fought monument and national park designation.
The Beehive State’s congressional delegation was buzzing again at Haaland’s recommendation. Governor Spencer Cox, R‑Utah, said in a statement: “There’s a better way and I look forward to talking with the President about how to find a lasting solution that’s better for the land and everyone involved.”
Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson said land use decisions should not be dictated by “politicians, bureaucrats and special interest groups.”
Such sentiments will bring tears to your eyes, if you happen to be a crocodile. There was no consultation in 2017 when Trump loudly cut the guts out of both monuments. Bears Ears was reduced from 1.3 million acres to two segments totaling 215,000 acres, with the drillers invited to bid on deleted portions. Grand Staircase-Escalante was cut from 1.9 million acres to 800,000 acres.
Once more, a radicalized Republican Party betrayed what was a conservation legacy. Three national parks in Utah began as national monuments and received their initial protection from Republican presidents. William Howard Taft set aside what became Zion National Park. Warren G. Harding protected what’s now Bryce Canyon National Park from overgrazing and tree cutting. Herbert Hoover designated the monument that is now Arches National Park.
The “Western Caucus”, consisting of conservative House Republicans – currently chaired by Representative Dan Newhouse, R‑Washington – has pursued two goals, emasculating the Antiquities Act with presidential powers to set aside monuments, and eviscerating the Endangered Species Act.
The case for a Bears Ears National Monument was made for years by Native American groups in the Southwest, against furious opposition led by officials and legislators from Utah’s San Juan County, and now-retired U.S. Senator Orin Hatch, R‑Utah. The argument rang familiar to those who have witnessed Pacific Northwest wilderness battles, the claim that feds were going to “lock up” the land. Western writer Edward Abbey once quipped: “Visitors are always welcome in the Beehive State. Just set your watch back fifty years.”
Well, cultural sites need to be protected.
Secretary Haaland put it best after touring Bears Ears in April, telling The Guardian: “There are some pretty amazing ruins there and you know, I don’t even like to call them ruins because to our culture, in Pueblo culture if you acknowledge our ancestors, they are there. The spirit of the people never leaves.”
Haaland is America’s first Native American Cabinet secretary.
She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, elected to Congress from New Mexico in 2018 before her nomination to head the Interior Department two years later. Republican senators representing Indian Country in the Mountain West vigorously opposed her confirmation. But Alaska’s trio of GOP lawmakers, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, supported Haaland and praised her work helping put together the 2020 Great American Outdoors Act.
The Trump downsizing of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante served to put public focus on both areas. Patagonia used money from the Republicans’ 2017 tax cut to help finance a legal challenge to Trump’s actions. Rock climbing groups rallied to defense of Bears Ears. In a tweet on Monday, the Natural Resources Defense Council said: “Thank you to the Indigenous activists leading this fight and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for this important recommendation.”
It is still a recommendation.
Haaland was careful to meet in April with Governor Cox and U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R‑Utah, who was elected to take Hatch’s seat in 2018.
Chances are, with Romney’s position in the Senate, the Utah congressional delegation will get the chance to make its case.
Trolling for votes from the fisheries industry, Trump last year reopened the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Monument to commercial fishing, which obviated much of the protection given the area. As created by Obama, the monument prohibited seabed mining and most fishing, although lobster and crab boat operators were given a seven year grace period.
President Biden has a lot on his plate, including seafood.