WASHINGTON – Home Secretary Deb Haaland has advised President Biden to restore environmental protection to three major national monuments that were removed by former President Donald J. Trump.
In a report sent to the White House earlier this month that went unpublished, Ms. Haaland recommended that Mr. Biden restore the original boundaries, the millions of acres at the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two rugged unspoiled areas Expanses in Utah, which are characterized by red canyons, abundant wildlife and archaeological treasures.
A spokeswoman for Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox confirmed Monday that Ms. Haaland had made the recommendations.
At the urging of ranchers and many Republican leaders, Trump had greatly reduced the size of both national monuments and opened them up for mining, drilling, and development. At the time, it was the largest withdrawal of state protection in the country’s history.
Mr Trump’s 2017 decision to slash Bears Ears by nearly 85 percent alarmed paleontologists, environmentalists and Native American groups, and several filed a legal challenge pending in federal court. Bears Ears is rich in fossils dating back hundreds of millions of years and is a major cultural landmark for tribal nations.
Ms. Haaland has also recommended Mr. Biden to revive the protection of the Atlantic’s first marine monument, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, a vast expanse of sea canyons and underwater mountains off the New England coast, the Washington Post reported. Mr Trump opened the memorial, home to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, to commercial fishing last year.
Bears Ears and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts were both founded by President Barack Obama in 2016. Grand Staircase-Escalante was founded in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
Neither the White House nor the Home Office wanted to comment.
Ms. Haaland’s recommendation to reintroduce protection was widely expected. On his first day in office, President Biden ordered a revaluation review to “determine whether restoration of monument boundaries and conditions would be appropriate”.
Named after two towering hills that dominate much of the landscape in southeastern Utah, Bears Ears is the site of ancient cliff dwellings and sacred burial grounds. It is the ancestral home of five tribal nations – the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Pueblo of Zuni.
Environmentalists welcomed Ms. Haaland’s recommendation, although they noted that Mr. Biden does not have to make a final decision yet.
“We welcome this news after years of litigation aimed at restoring much-needed protection to these countries and waters,” said Dan Hartinger, director of government relations for the Wilderness Society. “Secretary Haaland received input from near and far on the importance of restoring protection, and there is no doubt that she heard overwhelming support that led to her recommendations. We must now see the President act on the facts and not be distracted by those who have not identified any other viable path forward. “
The recommendation to restore the boundaries of the monuments follows the G7 meeting in the UK, at which Mr Biden and the leaders of the six other richest nations pledged to preserve 30 percent of the world’s land and waters.
Mr. Cox, the Republican governor of Utah, said in a statement that he was disappointed. “I think there is a better way and I look forward to speaking with the president about how to find a permanent solution that is better for the country and everyone involved,” he said, echoing the concerns of several Legislators in Utah that approved the designation of
But any decision by Mr Biden to restore the monuments’ original boundaries also involves some political risks. Senator Mitt Romney, the Republican from Utah, said he did not want a president to determine the footprints of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, but that the boundaries should be set by Congress. He is also a key member of a bipartisan group that is negotiating with the White House to get a major infrastructure bill passed that is a legislative priority for Mr Biden.
The rest of the Utah Congressional delegation released a statement Monday calling on Mr. Biden not to use his executive powers to alter the dimensions of the monuments.
“We reiterate our request that the President publicly publish the Secretary’s recommendations on the report and meet with our delegation before making a final decision on the boundaries of the monuments,” the legislators wrote. “We also urge the administration to work with our delegation and with state, local and tribal leaders to work out a permanent, legislative solution that we believe is the only way to solve this longstanding problem and provide much-needed security offers our communities. “
Ms. Haaland, the country’s first Native American cabinet secretary, is a member of the Laguna Pueblo. She now heads the federal agency that has played a pivotal role in coast-to-coast displacement and abuse of indigenous communities for much of the country’s history, and she has made Indigenous Affairs a top priority in the Department of Indigenous Affairs.
In a 2019 interview with The Guardian, Ms. Haaland described a recent camping trip she had taken to Bears Ears. “There are some pretty amazing ruins there, and you know, I don’t even like to call them ruins because in our culture, in pueblo culture, if you acknowledge our ancestors, they are,” she said. “The spirit of the people never goes.”
In April, Ms. Haaland visited Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, where she hiked and met with Republican leaders, including Mr. Cox, as well as tribal leaders who urged the monument to be restored. Some tribal groups have also campaigned for Mr. Biden to help expand Bears Ears beyond the limits drawn by the Obama administration.