President Biden on Friday officially restored environmental protections that were rolled back by former President Trump – signing proclamations to restore the boundaries of two Utah monuments and ban commercial fishing in a Northeast marine monument.
Biden, in explaining his decision, invoked native rights, calling one of the Utah monuments, Bears Ears, “a place of healing…a place of reverence, a sacred homeland to hundreds of generations of native peoples.”
He also brought up climate change and advocated for the climate provisions in his economic agenda.
“Nearly one in three Americans live in a community that was struck by weather disasters just in the last few months,” Biden said. “Both the Build Back Better plan and my bipartisan infrastructure agreement are going to make critical investments, significantly increasing the resilience to these devastating effects on the climate crisis.”
Trump had reduced the size of Bears Ears, designated by then-President Barack Obama, by about 85 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, designated by then-President Bill Clinton, by nearly half.
He also decided to open up the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, off the New England coast, for commercial fishing.
The White House announced late Thursday that Biden would restore Grand Staircase-Escalante to its pre-Trump boundaries, prohibit commercial fishing in the marine monument and phase out red crab and lobster fishing.
For Bears Ears, it will return to preserving all of the land that was part of the monument before Trump, while also retaining land that was added during the Trump years, to make the monument 11,200 acres larger than it was under Obama.
The announcement was met by criticism from several of Utah’s elected leaders, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R).
“President Biden is delivering a devastating blow to the ongoing efforts by our delegation, along with state, local, and tribal leaders, to find a permanent, legislative solution to resolve the longstanding dispute over the boundaries and management of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments,” he said.
“Rather than take the opportunity to build unity in a divided region and bring resources and lasting protections to sacred antiquities by seeking a mutually beneficial and permanent legislative solution, President Biden fanned the flames of controversy and ignored input from the communities closest to these monuments,” he added.
But the news was celebrated by some tribal groups.
“President Biden did the right thing restoring the Bears Ears National Monument,” said a statement from Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. “We will always return to these lands to manage and care for our sacred sites, waters and medicines.”
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary, spoke at Friday’s event, saying that the move bends “the moral arc of the universe towards justice.”
“Today’s announcement – It’s not just about national monuments. It’s about this administration centering the voices of indigenous people and affirming the shared stewardship of this landscape with tribal nations.”