Thu. May 19th, 2022

To fulfill a promise made as a presidential candidate, Joe Biden on Friday exercised his executive powers to restore the original boundaries of Utah’s two major national monuments. The move was heralded as a bold move toward protecting the nation’s natural and cultural heritage, but it could rekindle the state’s long-running feud with the federal government over control of public lands.

[Related: What changes in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante with Biden’s order?]

The bite was flanked by monument advocates in the White House when he signed decrees putting the 2 million acres back in the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments that President Donald Trump removed four years ago. He also restored a large sea monument that his predecessor had removed.

The president’s action “fulfills a key promise and upholds the long-standing principle that America’s national parks, monuments and other protected areas must be protected forever and for all people,” the White House statement said. “The president’s protection of these three national monuments is among a series of steps the administration has taken to restore protection to some of America’s most beloved countries and waters, many of which are sacred to tribal nations.”

However, before the White House even announced Biden’s decision on Thursday, Utah’s Republican leadership blew up the president for failing to pursue a “collaborative” solution to the monument dispute and anything but threatened to bring the administration to justice.

“We expected and hoped for closer cooperation between our state and national leaders, especially on issues that directly affect Utah and our citizens,” Governor Spencer Cox and other top executives said in a joint statement. “The president’s decision to expand the monuments again is a tragically missed opportunity – it does not provide security as well as funding for law enforcement, research and other protections that the monuments need and that only congressional acts can offer.”

There were not many calls for cooperation in 2017 when Trump came to the Utah Capitol to sign decrees cutting the monuments, surrounded by jubilant Republican politicians who claimed the monuments suffocated local economies and suffocated Utah’s autonomy.

On Friday, Biden reversed those controversial orders by acting on the recommendations of Interior Minister Deb Haaland, who as a congresswoman in New Mexico had fought for legislation to enlarge Bears Ears to include 1.9 million acres sought by five Native American tribes.

The new Bear Ears monument is actually larger than the original because it is to contain 11,200 acres, which the Trump administration added in 2017, according to the White House. The 2 million hectares of Biden that were put back in monument status will continue to be available for livestock grazing and hunting, but these areas will be withdrawn from future mining requirements and mineral leasing.

In recent years, many claims have been made on land that had previously been inside the monuments, and the federal government may be required to allow their development.

Following in the footsteps of two of her predecessors, Haaland toured the Bears Ears region with Cox and heard from stakeholders in April. Her subsequent report to the White House called for the restoration of the monuments to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to learn and cherish the history of indigenous peoples.

“I am proud to stand with President Biden in restoring these monuments and fulfilling his commitment to the American people,” Haaland said Friday. “During my visit to Utah, I had the special honor of speaking to many people who are deeply concerned about this country. The historical connection between Indigenous peoples and the Bears Ears is undeniable; Our Native American ancestors have lived in the countryside since time immemorial and evidence of their rich lives is everywhere one sees. ”

(Francisco Kjolseth | Salt Lake Tribune) The two butters that are the namesake of the Bears Ears National Monument reveal the vast landscape that surrounds them, as part of the 1.35 million acres of southeastern Utah protected by President Barack Obama on December 28, 2016. Republicans in Utah in Congress are in favor of Trump removing Uta’s National Monument designation.

In response to five tribes with cultural and ancestral ties to the archeological landscapes around the Bears Ears Buttes in San Juan County, President Barack Obama set the limits for the Bears Ears at 1.3 million acres in 2016, when Biden served as vice president.

Trump’s order cut the monument into two non-contiguous units totaling 202,000 acres, excluding large areas once occupied by Anasazi, the ancestors of today’s Puebloan tribes, leaving a rich archaeological record that spans centuries. The five tribes – Ute Mountain Ute, Navajo, Ute, Zuni and Hopi – said these artifacts, which included structures, tombs and countless artifacts, have been in danger of being looted for decades and require federal protection.

Last month, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing the five tribes, pressured the White House not to wait another day to restore the monument, saying “real damage, very permanent” occurs on land and cultural treasures, Trump removed from the monument.

“These artifacts, considered by us to be messages that our ancestors intended to see and incorporate into lessons of our day, are being literally erased,” the coalition wrote in a letter to Biden on September 22.

To drive this point home, the letter included side-by-side photos of rock art shown in 2018 and again in 2019 smeared with mud. The tribes claim that the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have failed to engage tribal stakeholders in the monument’s supervision while it has been in a state of limbo for nearly four years. Meanwhile, BLM and Forest Service had completed management plans that are likely to be halted when agencies return to the drawing board.

“These planning activities, which include new water wells to expand the opportunities for grazing cattle and an increase in permits for motorized recreation and hardening and expansion of campsites, have been carried out without our involvement in cooperation, and we do not want them to be effective. becomes a cabinet accompli, ”read between the coalition letter.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox, on the other hand, claims that the Bears Ears designation has actually put these objects at greater risk by leading visitors into sensitive landscapes like Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge and Elk Ridge, but without investing in any real protection. .

graphics showing monument changes

“We designate millions of acres for monuments, and then we get no resources for those areas,” he said recently. “And all you have done now is attract more people to destroy these areas without signs, without welcome centers, without law enforcement … That’s a huge mistake. We end up destroying more antiques and destroying the landscape. ”

The Biden administration signaled that it intends to secure sufficient staff and resources to ensure that the monument’s treasures are properly protected, better manage the increasing visits to this fragile landscape and involve the tribes in monument management.

“The Bureau of Land Management plans to assign additional rangers to the region; install appropriate signage and infrastructure to inform and support visitors begin working with communities, the state of Utah and tribal leaders to assess the potential for a Bears Ears Visitor Center that highlights the monument’s cultural resources, ”the White House statement said.

Perhaps most importantly, Biden promised a central role for the intertribal coalition, whose views the Trump administration apparently ignored.

But Cox and other Utah political leaders fear that landscaping will have a hefty price tag in terms of reduced access and lost economic opportunity.

The governor agreed last summer at a forum on Utah’s support for the outdoors and rejected critics’ claims that state leaders are against conservation, arguing that sensitive public spaces can be successfully preserved without the burdensome designations preferred by the environmental community.

“There are those who do not want people to enjoy any of this country at all. And that is unfortunately what is happening in many areas, especially with these monument designations, ”he said. “I have miles of sagebrush that most people will never visit or worry about visiting that are thrown into these monuments without the input of the locals who are deeply concerned and the ability to live in these areas.”

Cox and the rest of Utah’s top political leaders have long argued that Utah’s major monument designations exceed the scope provided for in the Antiquities Act, the 1906 Act, which allows presidents to establish monuments on public land without congressional approval.

A phalanx of environmental and science organizations exaggerated the Biden administration for taking decisive action to protect some of the country’s most culturally and scientifically significant, but also pristine landscapes. Friday’s action also restores the grand staircase designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996 when he sought re-election, setting the limits at 1.9 million acres.

Trump had halved this monument and carved out many areas containing coal and oil deposits, which then became available for development, though no one was ever leased.

“There are some of the most spectacular red rocky landscapes in the nation. Through the lens of history, [Biden’s decision] will be the right decision, ”said Steve Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The task that follows the restoration today is how we prioritize the protection of this landscape and its objects and once again make the Grand Staircase-Escalante the crown jewel of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.”

Trump’s action removed at least 1,400 scientifically significant fossil sites from the Grand Staircase monument, including sauropod swimming trails, the site where a dinosaur known as Machairoceratops was discovered, and chalk mammal sites, according to David Polly, former president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“Bears Ears and Grand Trappe still have important stories to tell about the ancient life story of our planet, and [Biden’s] action helps ensure they are told, ”Polly said.

All four presidents – Clinton, Obama, Trump and Biden – had the 1906 Antiquities Act to establish or change the monument boundaries. While the courts have validated presidents’ use of this landmark conservation law to set expansive monument boundaries, the question of whether it can be used to shrink monuments remains unanswered.

“Until Trump’s illegal actions in 2017, it was well accepted and well understood that monument designations were durable protections,” Bloch said. “I think that’s still the case, and I think we’ll see what Trump did, it’s like a departure.”

Several lawsuits were filed to reverse Trump’s action, but the restoration of the monuments now causes these cases to be debated.


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