Grand Staircase

The Biden administration could reverse course on the splintering of land at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

With the departure of the Trump administration, many conservation organizations are asking President-elect Biden to reverse some of his predecessor’s actions affecting public lands and the environment. There are concerns over new Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act regulations and, of course, President Trump’s splintering of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in Utah, according to The National Parks Traveler.

The Biden administration will need the help of Congress to undo the full slate of Trump administration policies affecting public lands, including national parks. But there are straightforward and immediate actions the new team can take, such as reversing executive orders prioritizing extraction over conservation and reinstating lands removed from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, when it takes office on Jan. 20.

Among the first steps will be to name an acting director to steer the National Park Service and rebuild trust with the career staff until the Senate confirms a permanent director, said John Leshy, emeritus professor at UC Hastings Law School, and solicitor at the Interior Department during the Clinton Administration.

Neither the National Park Service nor the Bureau of Land Management had a permanent director under President Trump. Instead, acting directors have been responsible for guiding the agencies.

“This has had a huge impact on employee morale and been detrimental to instructional reforms and planning,” said Brandon Bragato, staff director, House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands, in an email. He believes it’s important for the incoming park service nominee to have agency experience.

Bragato keeps a list of issues on the subcommittee’s radar for the upcoming 117th Congress. At the top is the implementation of the Great American Outdoors Act, Public Law 116-152, enacted last summer. The law provides $1.9 billion annually to Interior agencies and the U.S. Forest Service for deferred maintenance projects, such as critical bridge repairs and campground improvements, in fiscal years 2021-2025. The Biden administration will be responsible for prioritizing deferred maintenance projects when it submits its budget request to Congress in February.

“We want to make sure the highest priority projects get funded. It’s really important that the money gets spread around and not just go to the biggest parks with the most visitation,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president of government affairs, National Parks and Conservation Association.

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