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Biden and the Public Lands


One of the critical issues the Biden administration faces is rolling back Trump’s horror show on the public lands. What can we expect?

Betsy Robblee, conservation and advocacy director for The Mountaineers, has already drafted a guide to what the new administration means for the outdoors community and a detailed set of policy goals that would impact outdoor recreation specifically.

She said the group expects Biden to restore key safeguards for public lands that have been eroded under the Trump administration. While the most notorious of these reductions have involved national monuments outside Washington state, they could have set the stage for further diminution of public lands, even in the Northwest.

But mitigating the reductions could “happen quickly through executive actions, like reversing the unlawful reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments,” Robblee said. “This unprecedented executive order by the previous administration set a dangerous precedent for public lands protected by the Antiquities Act, like the San Juan Islands National Monument here in Washington state.”

In 2017, the Trump administration shrunk Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase, both located in Utah. Bears Ears was reduced by about 85%, and Grand Staircase was cut to about half its original size.

Citing similar curtailments, Alex Craven, an organizer with the Sierra Club, says Biden and the new administration will have their work cut out for them.

“The Biden-Harris administration will come into office facing an urgent need to reinstate safeguards, from endangered species protections to those governing public input,” he said. “Among the most vital shifts, though, will be a need to change how public lands are used and managed. It’s time public lands and forests are managed as part of the climate solution, rather than contributing to the problem.”

Craven said that preserving old-growth forests and ending fossil fuel development on public lands will be essential steps in this process; the latter may be possible with a new administration that acknowledges the threat of climate change and plans to embrace policies rooted in scientific fact.

Robblee also emphasized the need to restore protections for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and key environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which allows outdoor recreation enthusiasts to have a voice in how public land management is shaped.

Just to get the nation back to where it was four years ago is going to require a lot of work. I care deeply about the public lands and it’s one of hundreds of policy areas that we have to fix. Let’s hope Biden gets the appointments up and running very quickly, as well as the executive orders. At least on the public lands, the advantage of the executive orders is that when a Republican does something terrible, corporations are reticent to act too quickly knowing that it can be reversed a few years later. That reticence must be reinforced and quickly.

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