The Biden administration will restore the size of three national monuments, two in Southern Utah and a third in waters off New England, that were eviscerated under Donald Trump with lands opened to the mining and petroleum industries.
“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 White House said in a statement set for release today.
The Escalante-Grand Staircase and Bears Ears National Monuments in Utah are a longstanding cause of environmentalists and rock climbers. They are also lands particularly cherished by Native Americans for their petroglyphs, pictographs, cultural sites, dwellings and sites used for traditional tribal rituals.
Restoration of the monuments was recommended by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. After camping in Bears Ears, Haaland told The Guardian, “There are some pretty amazing ruins there and, you know, I don’t even like to call them ruins because in our culture, in Pueblo culture, if you acknowledge our ancestors, they are there. The spirit of the people never leaves.”
In keeping with his goal of erasing predecessors’ accomplishments, Trump took a meataxe to the Utah monuments. Grand Staircase-Escalante, created by President Clinton, was cut in two, and reduced from 1.8 million acres to 800,000.
Bears Ears National Monument, protected by President Obama just before leaving office, was reduced by 85 percent, from 1.3 million acres to a fragmented 202,000 acres. The Utah congressional delegation cheered Trump as he made the announcement that he was gutting the monuments in Salt Lake City.
Environmental, rock climbing and Native American groups have sued to stop the monument slashing, with Patagonia providing generous financial support.
The action by Trump signals how far the Republican Party has come from its conservation traditions. Great national parks in the West began as national monuments. Using the 1906 Antiquities Act, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt created monuments in the Grand Canyon and on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Roosevelt did so to protect the canyon from the mining industry and halt the slaughter of Olympic elk that today bear his name.
Death Valley was given national monument status by Republican President Herbert Hoover. Hoover created Arches National Monument in Utah, a precursor to the now-famous national park. Warren G. Harding designated a Bryce Canyon National Monument. William Howard Taft created Zion National Monument, later made into a national park by a Republican-controlled Congress.
Trump went beneath the sea as well, reducing the 4,913 square mile New England Canyon and Seamounts National Marine Monument created by President Obama off Cape Cod.
The Utah congressional delegation decried the monuments’ restoration and depicted itself as an aggrieved party. “Rather than take the opportunity to build unity in a divided region and bring lasting protections to sacred antiquities by seeking a permanent and mutually beneficial legislative solution, President Biden has fanned the flames of controversy and ignored input from the communities close to the monument,” members said in a statement.
(The Utah congressional delegation also opposed designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by President Clinton in 1996. Public reaction was different. Creation of monuments in the Southwest helped Clinton become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Arizona since Harry Truman in 1948. Last November, Joe Biden became the second.)
Other members of Congress cheered the move.
“Some of America’s most iconic landscapes are safe again,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, a strong champion of conservation.
“Reversing the Trump administration’s illegal and wildly unpopular assault on public lands is a well-deserved victory for the local Tribes, gateway communities, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts who have fought so hard to preserve these irreplaceable areas for future generations,” Cantwell added.
Five tribes close to Bears Ears – Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, Hopi and Ute – originally petitioned President Obama to create a Bears Ears National Monument. They have argued that Trump put its cultural resources in jeopardy with his decision to reduce the monument by eighty-five percent.
In a recent appeal to President Biden, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition reported: “Each day that passes without national monument protection for numerous sacred sites and irreplaceable cultural resources risks desecration, looting, vandalism and misinformed visitation to an area that contains the kind of antiquities that lead to the Antiquities Act.”
One small rub on Trump: When the former occupant of the Oval Office removed over 1.1 million acres from Bears Ears National Monument, the Trump regime added an 11,000-acres sliver of land to the monument. The restoration under President Biden will keep that 11,000 acres as part of the monument.