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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.

Joel Connelly

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