NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, October 8th, 2021

Biden-Harris administration restores Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments in Utah, which were gutted by Donald Trump

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.

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