How the Biden-Harris and Cox-Henderson administrations could impact Utah national parks, monuments
On Inauguration Day of the United State’s 46th president, the country was tensely awaiting the ushering in of a new administration, and with it, a new environmental plan.
For what the United Nations have coined as “the last decade to save the planet” or the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Biden has unveiled plans to combat climate change and improve conservation efforts.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, inaugurated two weeks ago, has not spoken at length on his policy toward conservation or climate change, but has said he aims to ensure public lands are “managed responsibly and that the interests of all stakeholders are considered fairly,” according to his campaign website.
With Utah in a unique position to receive both a new governor and a new president this month, conservation groups and other advocates have high hopes for the future of the state’s public lands.
Utah’s national parks are set to receive funding from the Great American Outdoors Act passed last summer by the legislature and the Trump administration, though the exact date of fund disbursement is still unknown. These funds will be used for deferred maintenance, and according to advocates, can help the parks attain their sustainability goals.
Cox, in his proposed 2021 budget announced last week, said the visitor center at Cedar Breaks National Monument would move forward with funds from Zion Forever and the National Park Service.
In the budget, Cox proposed $125 million for open space, trails and parks, including $100 million for outdoor recreation, $7.3 million for the LeRay McAllister Critical Lands Conservation Fund and $17.7 million to expand and improve recreation opportunities at Utah’s state parks.
The National Park Service itself has been without a Senate-confirmed director for four years, and advocates are anxious to have the seat filled in a timely manner. The lack of leadership “creat[ed] instability and damage that could take years to reverse,” President of the National Parks Conservation Association Theresa Pierno said in a statement.
First Native American woman set to become Secretary of Interior
In terms of leadership, the Biden administration has nominated Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico to be the new Secretary of the Interior, the first Native American to fill the position pending Senate confirmation.
“We look forward to the swift Senate confirmation of Congresswoman Haaland, and to working with the Biden administration to undo damage and find new opportunities to make our parks stronger, expand them to tell more of our diverse, shared American story and improve access for all,” Pierno said in a statement.
Other groups such as the Conservation Lands Foundation, applauded the experience Haaland brings to the department and looks forward to years of not only land but heritage conservation.
“Congresswoman Deb Haaland brings a lived experience like no other to lead the Department of the Interior in ways that will harness the power of nature to ameliorate the impacts of climate change, improve access to the Great Outdoors for all Americans, honor the sovereignty of tribal nations, support rural economies, and safeguard wildlife and wild places for future Americans to enjoy,” Executive Director Brian Sybert said.
Tribes, like the Navajo Nation, congratulated the Pueblo of Laguna-enrolled congresswoman on her nomination, looking toward a future of governmental collaboration.
“The consideration, and hopeful confirmation, of Rep. Haaland to this role is a sign of change and hope that tribal nations will be represented well in Washington,” the Speaker Seth Damon of the Navajo Nation Council said in December.
Policy changes, hope for bipartisanism
Advocates like Cory MacNulty, Southwest Region Associate Director of the National Parks Conservation, is looking forward to “shifting from defending the lands to proactively looking at opportunities to work with local communities for long term protection.”
The Trump administration approved more than 100 rollbacks on protective policies and land sales of protected public lands such as Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was cut nearly in half for oil and gas drilling.
“I’m very hopeful the Biden administration, along with prioritizing science, will also restore opportunities for public engagement in federal land,” MacNulty said. “We are looking forward to appointees at the top of the Department of Interior who will prioritize the land over development.”
According to a 2019 study by the National Parks Conservation Association, 96% of all national parks are experiencing significant haze, along with all the side effects.
Tammie Bostick, Executive Director of Utah Clean Cities, said she hoped the new administrations will focus on sustainability goals while collaborating with local communities.
“The future of our National Parks and public lands most certainly will be positively moved toward attainable sustainability goals by the Biden administration across our nation and in our state,” Bostick said.
In regards to Cox, Bostick said, “We expect him to drive increased funding and support for alternative fuels and infrastructure for Utah and our gateway communities near and around our national parks.”
Other issues such as overvisitation, haze, sustainability, and a moratorium on land sales are also on the minds of advocates, who said they hope solutions discussed before the Trump administration will be discussed again.
“There’s a lot of people hopeful we’ll get rapid change, but the list is long,” MacNulty said, noting the association is looking at the “long game.”
Most of all, advocates are urging to remove politics from public lands for the good of the people and the land.
Reported by The Spectrum