The Biden administration says it has begun reaching out to elected officials, Native American tribes and other stakeholders as part of its review of the Trump administration’s controversial rollback of national monuments, kick-starting a process that is widely expected to result in President Joe Biden fulfilling a campaign promise to restore the protected sites.
As part of a sweeping first-day executive order to “protect public health and the environment and restore science,” Biden ordered the Interior Department to review President Donald Trump’s proclamations to dismantle three protected monuments, two in southern Utah and one off the Atlantic coast. Biden has slammed the monument cuts as among Trump’s “assaults on America’s natural treasures.”
In 2017, the Trump administration launched a review of recent national monument designations made under the Antiquities Act of 1906. That process featured administration officials cozying up to monument opponents, cherry-picking data and dismissing overwhelming public support for maintaining protected sites, and ended with Trump carving more than 2 million acres away from two sites in southern Utah.
The boundary of Bears Ears, a 1.35 million-acre landscape that several tribes consider sacred, was cut by 85 percent. Nearby, Grand Staircase-Escalante, a sweeping 1.87-million-acre monument rich in dinosaur fossils and archeological sites, was cut roughly in half. Later, in June 2020, Trump opened the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a 4,900-square-mile protected site off the East Coast, to commercial fishing.
Now, in a swing of the political pendulum, the Biden administration is reviewing the Trump-era changes. The Interior Department said Tuesday that discussions with stakeholders, including elected officials, tribal nations and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, would begin shortly and will help the administration determine whether the monument boundaries and protections should be restored.
Biden’s executive order gave the Interior Department 60 days to submit a report with its findings and recommendations. The agency is conducting its review alongside the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.