With the enthusiastic support of Indigenous leaders and conservation groups, President Joe Biden on Friday is set to use his executive power to fully restore protections to a trio of beloved national monuments that the Trump administration rolled back in a giveaway to corporate interests, including the oil and gas industry.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House Thursday night ahead of Biden’s formal announcement, the president “will sign three proclamations restoring protections for Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monuments.”
The new proclamations will reverse steps taken by former President Donald Trump to shrink the monuments at the behest of Republican lawmakers and industry groups, which aimed to exploit the protected areas for commercial drilling, mining, and fishing.
The president’s executive actions arrive just days after tribal leaders voiced frustration over the Biden administration’s failure to act swiftly to restore monument protections.
“Through this action, the history of our people, our culture, and religion will be preserved for future generations,” Clark W. Tenakhongva, vice chair of the Hopi Tribe and co-chair of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, said in response to Biden’s plan.
Steve Blackledge, senior conservation program director at Environment America, said in a statement that “there are so many reasons to rejoice over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante once again receiving protection.”
“They are home to countless animals, such as eagles, owls, and a world-renowned elk population,” Blackledge said. “Visitors come from all over for beautiful hikes, rock climbing, river rafting and wildlife viewing. They are also rich cultural heritage sites and are sacred to many Native Americans who originally lobbied for federal recognition.
“The same is true for New England’s Northeast Canyons and Seamounts,” he added. “This majestic underwater landscape teems with both large and small life. From whales and dolphins to thousand-year-old deep sea coral, this is a biodiversity hotspot, one that deserves protection in perpetuity.”
Specifically, the White House said Biden’s actions will restore Bears Ears to 1.36 million acres after Trump reduced the size of the Utah monument by 85%. The president will also restore Utah’s Grand Staircase—which Trump cut in half—to 1.87 million acres.
As for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the White House said Biden will prohibit commercial fishing there—a move that prompted immediate howls of protest from the seafood industry and applause from environmental groups.
“By permanently prohibiting destructive fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts and reinstating the protections, the hundreds of marine mammals that swim there will have reduced risk in the monument, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale,” said Gib Brogan, senior campaign manager of Oceana. “From the corals on the seafloor to the dolphins swimming on the surface thousands of feet above, the protections for the New England marine monument support an array of marine wildlife as well as productive fisheries and healthy oceans in New England.”
Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said Biden’s planned actions are “a testament to the Tribal nations, local communities and businesses, conservation organizations, and countless people across the country who spoke out and fought tirelessly to protect all that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and the surrounding national parks hold.”
“We commend President Biden for taking this step to reverse the previous president’s illegal assault on these most treasured places and for providing the protections this land truly deserves,” Pierno added. “This is an important step in righting the wrongs and showing so many people across the country who care about preserving our national treasures that they have been heard. Today, we celebrate with all of them.”
This story has been updated to include comment from Gib Brogan, senior campaign manager of Oceana.
Republished from Common Dreams (Jake Johnson, staff writer) under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).