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Biden restores national monuments' protections stripped away by Trump

Restrictions on Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts national monuments had been changed to allow development.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday restored environmental protections to major national monuments in Utah and New England that had been stripped by the Trump administration.

Speaking at an outdoor ceremony at the White House, Biden said that protecting Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts national monuments should not become "a pendulum that swings back and forth depending on who is in public office."

"These protections provide a bridge to our past, but they also build a bridge to a safer, more sustainable future," he continued.

While in office, President Donald Trump gutted or lifted restrictions on all three national monuments, dramatically reducing their size and allowing development, mining, ranching, drilling and fishing to take place on the lands.

Biden said that "as a matter of curtsey" he spoke to Utah Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both Republicans, about his decision. Biden said they did not agree with restoring the protections, but added that they were "gracious and polite about it."

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary, spoke emotionally about the importance of the lands to tribal nations.

"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," Haaland said. "Together, we will tell a more complete story of America."

In late 2017, Trump signed a directive that sharply reduced Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in southern Utah by 1.23 million acres out of a total of 3.25 million acres, all of which had been protected by monument status.

Bears Ears was designated by President Barack Obama in 2016, and Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated by the Clinton administration in 1996. Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the Atlantic Ocean's first marine monument, off the coast of New England, was designated by Obama in 2016, and Trump last year signed an order to allow for commercial fishing within its boundaries.

Environmentalists and Native American tribes had sued the Trump administration over the directives and have pressed Biden to restore the protections.

Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a consortium of several sovereign tribal nations that advocates for the land's preservation, applauded the move by the administration.

"The Coalition commends [Biden] for uplifting Indigenous perspectives and respecting the inherent right of Tribes to manage ancestral homelands," the group said in a tweet on Friday. "We look forward to a new model of Indigenous management of ancestral lands."

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., the chair of the Natural Resources Committee, praised the decision in a statement, saying, "It's time to put Trump's cynical actions in the rear-view mirror."

Biden's decision to restore full federal protection "shows this administration's commitment to conserving our public lands and respecting the voices of Indigenous Peoples," Grijalva said.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, sharply criticized the administration in a statement for not having consulted his office to "end the perpetual enlarging and shrinking of these monuments and bring certainty to their management."

"These decisions clearly demonstrate the administration's unwillingness to collaborate with and listen to those most impacted by their decisions. We remain hopeful that a long-term solution will be reached in the future and that the exhausting policy instability over Utah's public land can come to an end," Cox said.