WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden restored two sprawling national monuments in Utah on Friday, reversing a decision by President Donald Trump that opened hundreds of thousands of acres of rugged land sacred to Native Americans and home to mining and other developments. ancient cliff dwellings. and petroglyphs.
The Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in southern Utah span more than 3.2 million acres, an area nearly the size of Connecticut, and were created by Democratic administrations under a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historic, geographically, or culturally important.
“This may be the easiest thing I’ve ever done as president, I mean it,” a smiling Biden said at a White House ceremony attended by Democratic lawmakers, tribal leaders and environmentalists.
Restoring the boundaries and protections of the monuments restores their integrity, upholds efforts to honor the federal trust’s responsibility to tribal nations, and conserves the lands and waters for future generations, Biden said.
Bears Ears in particular was an important site to protect, Biden said, noting that the 1.3 million-acre site is the first national monument to be established at the request of federally recognized tribes. It is “a place of healing … a place of reverence and a sacred homeland for hundreds of generations of Native peoples,” Biden said.
Biden called Grand Staircase-Escalante “a place of unique and extraordinary geology” and noted that the 1.9 million acre site had been protected by presidential order for 21 years before Trump’s 2017 order cut the monument almost to the ground. half. Trump reduced Bears Ears by 85%, to just over 200,000 acres.
In a separate action, Biden also restored protections in a marine conservation area off the New England coast that has been used for commercial fishing under a Trump order. A rule change approved by Trump allowed commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, an area nearly 5,000 square miles southeast of Cape Cod. Trump’s action was heralded by fishing groups, but ridiculed. by environmentalists who lobbied Biden and Home Secretary Deb Haaland to restore protections against fishing.
“There is nothing like it in the world,” Biden said of the marine monument, citing its “unique biodiversity” and “waters teeming with life, with underwater canyons as deep as parts of the Grand Canyon (and) seamounts as high as Appalachia. Marine scientists believe this is the key to understanding life under the sea. “
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and other Republicans expressed disappointment at Biden’s decision to restore Utah’s monuments, where red rocks reveal petroglyphs and distinctive cliff and hill dwellings jutting out of a grassy valley. Trump invoked the century-old Antiquities Act to cut 2 million acres from the two monuments. The restrictions on mining and other energy productions were a “massive land grab” that “should never have happened,” Trump said when repealing the protections.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Biden had “missed the opportunity to build consensus” and find a permanent solution for the monuments. “Once again, Utah’s national monuments are being used as political football between administrations,” Romney said.
Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, said Biden’s actions did not refer only to national monuments.
“This is about this administration centering the voices of indigenous peoples and affirming the shared stewardship of this landscape with tribal nations,” he said at the White House. “Today’s president’s action writes a new chapter that encompasses indigenous knowledge, ensures tribal leadership has a place at the table, and demonstrates that by working together we can build a brighter future for all of us.”
Representative Raul Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said Biden’s restoration of the monuments shows his dedication to “conserving our public lands and respecting the voices of indigenous peoples. “.
“It’s time to put Trump’s cynical actions in the rearview mirror,” Grijalva said.
Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group, said she hopes Biden’s actions will mark an initial step toward his goal of conserving at least 30% of America’s lands and oceans. 2030.
Trump’s cuts drew widespread news coverage and increased national attention to Bears Ears, Rokala and others said. They asked the federal government to increase funding to manage the landscape and handle the growing crowds at the two sites.
“In some ways, the hard work is ahead of us now as we turn our attention to planning, co-management and public education,” said Joe Neuhof, executive director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, a Utah conservation group. .
Haaland, who visited Bears Ears in April, said Indian tribes have “sung and spoken in unison to protect” Bears Ears, which she called a “holy place” and “a living landscape.”
Bears Ears “is a place where you can stand in the doorway of a house where a family that lived thousands of years ago left a legacy of love and preservation for a place that sustained them for countless generations,” he said. “The stories of existence, celebration, survival and reverence are etched into the sandstone canyon walls. Sacred sites are scattered across the desert plateaus. “
Former President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears a national monument in 2016, 20 years after President Bill Clinton moved to protect Grand Staircase-Escalante. Bears Ears was the first site to receive the designation at the specific request of the tribes.
The Intertribal Bears Ears Coalition, which lobbied for restoration, said Biden did the right thing. The coalition includes the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Zuni People, and the Ute Indian Tribe.
“For us, the monument never disappeared,” said Shaun Chapoose, coalition member and chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee. “We will always return to these lands to manage and care for our sacred sites, waters and medicines.”
The Trump administration cuts to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante paved the way for potential coal mining and oil and gas drilling on previously off-limits land. However, activity was limited due to market forces.
Biden’s decision to restore protections at the marine monument came down to environmental groups having a stronger lobby than fisheries advocates, said Bob Vanasse, chief executive of Saving Seafood, a national fishing industry group.
“Anyone who likes fresh local fish, tuna, lobster and crab meat should be very angry at the Harris-Biden Administration today,” Vanasse said.
Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City, and Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.