President Biden should undo Trump’s assault on our nation’s natural wonders

Protections should be restored for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in southern Utah and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

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The Bears Ears National Monument

The Bears Ears National Monument

U.S. Forest Service

Wait times are as long as five hours at Arches National Park in Utah, and run on for hours at other national parks as well. America should set aside more federal land, not less, for parks and monuments.

Now would be a good time, at the height of the summer vacation season, for the Biden administration to restore the alarmingly shrunken borders of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in southern Utah. The Trump administration chopped away at the acreage of the monuments in a unilateral move that the courts may eventually rule is illegal.

But there is no guarantee the courts will do so, and no reason to wait. Given our nation’s continued growing population, more of our nation’s majestic land should be preserved for future generations.

Editorial

Editorial

While the Biden administration is at it, it also should restore protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. Aquatic life abounds there, but in 2020 the Trump reopened it to commercial fishing.

Trump cut the size of Bears Ears by 85% in 2017, and since then people tooling around in all-terrain vehicles have been looting historic artifacts, including ancient Pueblo Indian pottery. Companies have filed claims for mining uranium, a major cause of pollution. The oil and gas industry wants to lease 40,000 acres.

The extraordinary scenery and rich fossil record at Grand Staircase, cut by nearly 85%, also are at risk. Fossils unearthed there have provided evidence that tyrannosaurs hunted in packs instead of alone. The secrets of the archeological record, stretching back 12,000 years, have only begun to be examined. The two monuments also contain areas with deep cultural and religious importance to tribes with ancestral ties to the land.

In the case pending in federal district court, environmentalists hope to restore full protection to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Parties to the case are now filing status reports and both sides have moved for summary judgments. A legal challenge also has been filed to restore protections to Northeast Canyons, but that case is not as far along.

Opinion Newsletter

President Joe Biden has said he would expand Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, but he hasn’t acted nor has he said how much acreage he would restore of the monuments’ original nearly 2 million acres. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland transmitted a report on this to White House in June, but the report has not been made public.

Biden, who has said he wants to conserve 30% of our nation’s land, fresh water and ocean areas by 2030, should return full protection to the monuments before further damage is done.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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