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White House to Restore National Monuments, Sparking GOP Ire (2)

Oct. 7, 2021, 9:20 PMUpdated: Oct. 8, 2021, 12:01 AM

President Joe Biden on Friday will restore the original boundaries and slightly expand two national monuments in Utah, as well as protections for one off the coast of Massachusetts, the White House said Thursday night.

Biden will reverse President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by nearly 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by almost half. Both are overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

He is also reversing Trump’s decision to allow commercial fishing in the protected waters of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, a national marine monument that President Barack Obama designated in 2016.

The actions, to be commemorated at a White House signing ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Friday, is a victory for environmental groups and many tribes that lobbied to restore the monuments’ original footprints.

Using the Antiquities Act, Biden will restore Bears Ears, created by President Barack Obama in 2016, to its original 1.35 million acres while retaining an 11,200 acre addition that Trump added in 2017. The territory protects a vast region of canyons and mesas replete with Native American cultural and sacred sites that tribes have pushed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to protect.

Bears Ears is unique because it was designed to be managed in cooperation with area tribes. The White House said land bureau will add new rangers and other staff to ensure its cultural resources are protected.

Biden will also restore the boundaries of south-central Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, recreating the vast preserve originally declared by President Bill Clinton in 1996. The monument’s creation was one of the most politically explosive conservation moves of the last 30 years because Utah’s Republicans saw it as a massive land grab, blocking coal mining, oil drilling and cattle grazing on public land.

The long-expected moves are a rebuke of Trump’s actions against the monument. In 2017, Trump shrank Bears Ears from its original 1.35 million acres to about 201,000 acres, and Grand Staircase-Escalante from 1.87 million acres to about 1 million acres.

Moot Litigation?

Biden’s move to restore the monuments’ original boundaries shows the White House’s “commitment to conserving our public lands and respecting the voices of Indigenous Peoples,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement.

“It’s time to put Trump’s cynical actions in the rear-view mirror, restore rightful protections, and restart the Bears Ears co-management arrangement with the tribes who have held this place sacred since time immemorial,” Grijalva said.

The move may moot ongoing litigation challenging Trump’s actions shrinking the monuments, which environmental groups and many natural resources legal experts say was illegal under the Antiquities Act.

“My sincere hope is that they are going to do this in a way that somehow makes clear that the Trump decisions were not lawful,” said Mark Squillace, a natural resources law professor at the University of Colorado Law School.

“Only Congress has the authority to shrink a monument once it has been lawfully designated by the President,” Squillace said Thursday in an email. “So, Trump had no authority to shrink the monuments and those decisions were never lawful.”

Backlash Expected

The restorations are poised to set up a backlash against the monuments from Republicans. A future Republican president could abolish or shrink the monuments once again.

In a statement issued by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R)'s office Thursday afternoon, Utah officials warned that the state may challenge the monuments’ restoration in court.

“The purpose of the Antiquities Act is to protect the ‘smallest area compatible with the care and management’ of significant archeological or historical objects to be protected. We agree and will consider all available legal options to that end,” Cox’s office said.

Lawsuits brought by tribes and environmental groups challenging Trump’s actions were stayed after the White House sought recommendations from the Interior Department regarding the future of the monuments.

“The government should then move to dismiss the case as moot, because it effectively eclipses the Trump administration’s action of shrinking the monuments,” said Sam Kalen, a natural resources law professor at the University of Wyoming.

Four related lawsuits are pending in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, including Hopi Tribe v. Trump.

—With assistance from Courtney Rozen.

(Updates to reflect announcement timing change and adds new reporting.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Bobby Magill at bmagill@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com

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