Utah files lawsuit challenging Biden’s designation of Bears Ears Monument
by David Boyle
The state of Utah, as well as Garfield and Kane counties, filed a legal challenge on August 24 to President Joseph Biden’s designation of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court was brought forth by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Utah Governor Spencer Cox in response to Biden’s restoration of the Bears Ears National Monument 10 months ago in October of 2021.
Last fall President Biden resized the monument near it’s original designated size of 1.36 million acres, with an addition of 11,200 acres that President Donald Trump added to the monument in 2017.
The 1.35 million-acre monument in San Juan County was designated by President Barack Obama in 2016.
In 2017, President Trump reduced the monument’s size by 85 percent and created two separate units – the Shash Ja and Indian Creek units – as part of reducing the size of the overall monument.
Following the announcement of President Biden’s resizing of the monument in October, Utah officials said they would consider legal options to challenge the designation.
The 84-page lawsuit includes four items of background that lay out an overview of the legal arguments submitted:
I. states that the Monuments and Antiquities Act of 1906 limits national monument declarations to three specific categories of objects and restricts accompanying land reservations to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of those objects.
II. states that President Biden’s proclamations cap a history of Antiquities Act abuse in Utah.
III. states President Biden’s unlawful proclamations have caused, and will continue to cause, a host of adverse impacts to the land, to State and local interests, and to the items that they purport to protect.
IV. states that President Biden’s proclamations exceed his authority under the Act.
Utah elected leaders issued a joint statement announcing the lawsuit. The joint-statement bore the names and support of elected Republican leaders including Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson, State Senate President Stuart Adams, State House Speaker Brad Wilson, US Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee as well as all four members of the US house of representatives including San Juan County’s representative John Curtis.
“These public lands and sacred sites are a stewardship that none of us take lightly. The
archeological, paleontological, religious, recreational, and geologic values need to be harmonized and protected. Rather than guarding those resources, President Biden’s unlawful designations place them all at greater risk.
“The vast size of the expanded Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments draws unmanageable visitation levels to these lands without providing any of the tools necessary to adequately conserve and protect these resources.
“A congressional solution would be the more effective path for the conservation and management of Utah lands. This would include collaboration from state and federal agencies, tribal nations, local governments, citizens, the legislature, and Utah’s congressional delegation. A congressional solution could better guard the area’s resources by ensuring tribal access to sacred sites, providing federal agencies with the management tools and funding they need, channeling visitation into appropriate protected locations, and giving local communities the funding and flexibility they need to thrive economically.
“We now challenge this repeated, abusive federal overreach to ensure that our public lands are adequately protected and that smart stewardship remains with the people closest to the land.”
Today’s lawsuit argues that the size of the two national monuments, covering vast landscapes of a combined 3.2 million acres, violates the Antiquities Act of 1906, which limits U.S. presidents to create monuments “confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
The announcement of the lawsuit resulted in statements from proponents of the larger monument designation. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:
“Once again, Utah’s political leaders are running roughshod over those who live closest to Utah’s national monuments — especially the Tribes that have lived here since time immemorial. This lawsuit further ignores the local elected officials in Grand and San Juan Counties, where Bears Ears is located, and community leaders in the towns closest to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, who have registered their support for President Biden’s lawful restoration of the original monument boundaries.
“From Governor Cox on down, the continued anti-environment agenda of Utah politicians makes the Utah political delegation the most hostile to America’s public lands, of any state. At a time when climate change is creating drought and extreme weather events in Utah, Utah’s politicians are exacerbating the harm by trying to upend the very public land protections that play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Utah residents deserve better.”
Utah Diné Bikéyah also released a short statement regarding the lawsuit.
“Utah Diné Bikéyahwill continue to advocate and protect our ancestral lands, such as the Bears Ears National Monument. We will still stand true to our mission statement and goals to protect our ancestral lands and values in this lawsuit.