Oroville Mercury-Register

Biden to restore three national monuments that were cut by Trump

- By Matthew Daly and Lindsay Whitehurst

WASHINGTON » President Joe Biden will restore two sprawling national monuments in Utah that have been at the center of a long-running public lands dispute, and a separate marine conservati­on area in New England that recently has been used for commercial fishing. Environmen­tal protection­s at all three monuments had been stripped by former President Donald Trump.

The White House announced the changes Thursday night ahead of a ceremony expected Friday.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, expressed disappoint­ment in Biden’s decision to restore Bears Ears and Grand StaircaseE­scalante monuments, which the Trump administra­tion downsized significan­tly in 2017.

The monuments cover vast expanses of southern Utah where red rocks reveal petroglyph­s and cliff dwellings and distinctiv­e buttes bulge from a grassy valley. Trump invoked the century-old Antiquitie­s Act to cut 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) from the two monuments, calling restrictio­ns on mining and other energy production a “massive land grab” that “should never have happened.”

His actions slashed Bears Ears, on lands considered sacred to Native American tribes, by 85%, to just over 200,000 acres (80,900 hectares). They cut Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly half, leaving it at about 1 million acres (405,000 hectares). Both monuments were created by Democratic presidents.

‘Key promise’

The White House said in a statement that Biden was “fulfilling a key promise” to restore the monuments to their full size 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.”

His actions were among a series of steps the administra­tion has taken to protect public lands and waters, the White House said, including moves to halt oil leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and prevent road-building in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the nation’s largest federal forest.

Biden’s plan also restores protection­s in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Cape Cod. Trump had made a rule change to allow commercial fishing at the marine monument, an action that was heralded by fishing groups but derided by environmen­talists who pushed Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to restore protection­s against fishing.

Protecting the marine monument would “safeguard this invaluable area for the fragile species that call it home” and demonstrat­e the administra­tion’s commitment to science, said Jen Felt, ocean campaign director for the Conservati­on Law Foundation.

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, praised the Biden administra­tion in a statement, saying restoring the monuments shows its 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.

Missed opportunit­y?

But Utah’s governor called Biden’s decision a “tragic missed opportunit­y.” The president’s action “fails to provide certainty as well as the funding for law enforcemen­t, research and other protection­s which the monuments need and which only Congressio­nal action can offer,” Cox said in a statement released with other state leaders.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney also criticized Biden, saying in a tweet the president had “squandered the opportunit­y to build consensus” and find a permanent solution for the monuments.

“Yet again, Utah’s national monuments are being used as a political football between administra­tions,” Romney said Thursday. “The decision to re-expand the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante is a devastatin­g blow to our state, local and tribal leaders and our delegation ... today’s ‘winner take all’ mentality moved us further away from that goal.”

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservati­on group, also applauded Biden’s decision and said she hopes it marks an initial step toward his goal of conserving at least 30% of U.S. lands and ocean by 2030.

“Thank you, President Biden,” Rokala said in a statement. “You have listened to Indigenous tribes and the American people and ensured these landscapes will be protected for generation­s to come.”

 ?? FRANCISCO KJOLSETH — THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE ?? This aerial file photo shows Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
FRANCISCO KJOLSETH — THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE This aerial file photo shows Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

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