Story at a glance

  • President Trump reduced the land protected as part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument and Bear’s Ears national monument.
  • Native tribes and environmental advocates are looking to President-elect Joe Biden to reverse these decisions.
  • The decision could be made by REp. Deb Haaland, who Biden has chosen as the first Native American to head the US interior department.

When President-elect Joe Biden takes office later this month, he will inherit an executive branch whose powers have been vastly expanded over the past four years. With that power comes the expectations of many, including Native Americans who want to see the return of once-protected lands. 


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The Trump administration removed dozens of federal protections over the last four years, from civil rights to the environment. One of the first such changes was the reduction of land protected as part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument and Bear’s Ears national monument in Utah.  

“It’s been kind of a head-scratcher as to why some of these sites were protected and why some were left out. From an archeological perspective it doesn’t make sense at all,” Lyle Balenquah, an archeologist and a member of the Hopi tribe, told the Guardian. “How are we going to manage these in the long term if only a portion of them are protected while others are left out to fend for themselves?” 


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On the campaign trail, Biden promised to take “immediate steps to reverse the Trump administration’s assaults on America’s natural treasures,” reported the Salt Lake Tribune at the time. Advocates were encouraged by his choice of Rep. Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, to lead the Interior Department, which oversees federal lands as well as the office of Indian Affairs. 

“On Day 1, Biden will also begin building on the Obama-Biden Administration’s historic conservation efforts by issuing an executive order to conserve 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030, focusing on the most ecologically important lands and waters,” said the Biden campaign’s website. “His administration will work with tribal governments and Congress to protect sacred sites and public lands and waters with high conservation and cultural values.”

Of course, not everyone is on board, including settlers in the area who question federal government control over the land. 

“I’m worried that a presidential move will exacerbate those feelings, just like they have in preceding times with both sides, President Trump and President Obama,” Rep. John Curtis, who has advocated against a reversal along with Republican colleagues, told the Guardian. “We’re in this cycle of presidential decisions that are changed or reversed, and that’s a really unhealthy way to deal with the problems down there.”


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Published on Jan 08, 2021