President Joe Biden will order the Department of the Interior to expand two national monuments that the Trump administration reduced in size, prohibiting commercial fishing in vast swaths of Utah.
The Biden administration will expand the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments from their reduced size of slightly more than 1 million acres to 3.2 million acres, the White House announced in a Thursday news release.
Bears Ears was established by former President Barack Obama in 2016, while Grand Staircase-Escalante was set aside as a national monument in 1996 by former President Bill Clinton.
“This living landscape must be protected so that all Americans have the profound opportunity to learn and cherish our history,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement. Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said Biden was “acting to right a wrong.”
Shortly after taking office in 2017, former President Donald Trump ordered the Interior Department to review national monuments that were over 100,000 acres and established since 1996.
Months later, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended the reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which blocked industry and local use of the land.
“Families will hike and hunt on land they have known for generations, and they will preserve it for generations to come,” Trump said in December 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The federal government does not have “unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water,” Trump added, “and it’s time we ended this abusive practice. Public lands will once again be for public use.”
Led by Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the state’s entire congressional delegation slammed Biden’s decision to expand the two monuments on Thursday.
“President Biden is delivering a devastating blow to the ongoing efforts by our delegation, along with state, local, and tribal leaders, to find a permanent, legislative solution to resolve the longstanding dispute over the boundaries and management of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments,” the six Republican lawmakers said in a statement.
“Rather than take the opportunity to build unity in a divided region and bring resources and lasting protections to sacred antiquities by seeking a mutually beneficial and permanent legislative solution, President Biden fanned the flames of controversy and ignored input from the communities closest to these monuments,” they continued.
Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, Attorney General Sean Reyes and other elected officials echoed the lawmakers’ comments, saying they had pleaded with the Biden administration for 10 months to pursue a legislative solution rather than an executive action.
They characterized the president’s action as a “tragic missed opportunity.”
“Our goal has been to make lasting progress on managing our public lands for the benefit of all those who use them, particularly those who live on and near those lands,” the officials said.
“We expected and hoped for closer collaboration between our state and national leaders, especially on matters that directly impact Utah and our citizens.”
Industry groups that rely on the land freed up by Trump’s actions also criticized the move.
“This is an unfortunate decision that is opposed not only by those affected in the commercial fishing industry, but by all eight fishery management councils and [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] fisheries,” Bob Vanasse, executive director of the seafood industry advocacy group Saving Seafood, said in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“There is no scientific justification to prohibit commercial fishing while allowing recreational fishing.”
Vanasse said the decision will prevent commercial fishermen from making a living and enable “owners of luxury yachts” to spearfish the same species in the same location.
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