President Joe Biden Friday restored the protected Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments after former President Trump dramatically slashed them in an effort to open more sensitive public lands to ranching, mining and oil drilling.
The president also reestablished a marine conservation area off the New England coast that Trump opened to commercial fishing.
“(The decision upholds) 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 ahead of an expected ceremony Friday.
The Utah monuments cover vast expanses of southern Utah that include ancient Native American petroglyphs, cliff dwellings and distinctive buttes that rise dramatically from a grassy valley.
Trump in 2017 cut nearly 2 million acres from the two majestic monuments, calling the federal restrictions on mining and other energy production a “massive land grab” Bears Ears, on lands considered sacred to Native American tribes, was slashed by nearly 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante cut in half.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary, traveled to Utah in April to visit the monuments, wading what has been a years-long public lands battle.
“The historical connection between Indigenous peoples and Bears Ears is undeniable,” said Haaland. “Our Native American ancestors sustained themselves on the landscape since time immemorial, and evidence of their rich lives is everywhere one looks.”
Biden’s plan also restores protections in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Cape Cod. Trump moved to allow commercial fishing at the marine monument, an action that was heralded by fishing groups but derided by environmentalists.
Utah Republican Gov. Spencer Cox called Biden’s decision a “tragic missed opportunity.”
“(It) fails to provide certainty as well as the funding for law enforcement, research and other protections which the monuments need,” Cox said in a statement released with other state leaders.
Former President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears a national monument in 2016, 20 years after former President Bill Clinton moved to protect Grand Staircase-Escalante. Bears Ears was the first site to receive the designation at the specific request of Native American tribes.
“For us, the monument never went away,” Shaun Chapoose, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee, said in a statement. “We will always return to these lands to manage and care for our sacred sites, waters and medicines.”