Biden restores protections stripped by Trump in wild areas

Washington (AFP) –


President Joe Biden on Friday restored environmental protections for two wild Utah expanses linked to America's indigenous history, and also a biodiverse area of the Atlantic, reversing his predecessor Donald Trump's move to open the national monuments to mining and fishing.

Biden signed the proclamations at a ceremony on the North Lawn at the White House, restoring the full size and status at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah, as well as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts area off the east coast.

"After the last administration chipped away their protections, today I'm proud to announce the protection and expansion of three of our most treasured national monuments," he said.

Trump downgraded the three monuments in a move popular with industry groups but outraging environmentalists and indigenous tribes.

Biden also became the first US president to issue a proclamation for Indigenous Peoples' Day, which coincides with the increasingly controversial national holiday celebrating explorer Christopher Columbus.

"For generations, federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace native people and eradicate native cultures. Today, we recognize indigenous peoples' resilience and strength, as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made," Biden said in the proclamation.

In a separate proclamation celebrating Columbus, Biden emphasized the immigration from Italy over subsequent centuries after the navigator opened up the Americas to Europeans, while on a voyage searching for a route to Asia.

With increasing focus on the terrible costs paid by peoples already living on the continent as European settlers expanded westward, Columbus is often seen today as a problematic figure.

Biden reflected this, saying, "We also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on tribal nations and indigenous communities."

"It is a measure of our greatness as a nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past -- that we face them honestly, we bring them to the light," Biden said. "For Native Americans, western exploration ushered in a wave of devastation."