A coalition of nine conservation organizations, including Guardians, filed suit against President Trump and his administration over the decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah by more than one million acres. Despite millions of Americans’ support for the monument, Trump’s proclamation effectively removed federal protections for much of this culturally and ecologically important area, leaving it open to looting, prospecting, oil and gas drilling, uranium mining, and off-road vehicle damage. We contend President Trump violated the Antiquities Act when he shrunk the boundaries of Bears Ears designated by President Obama in 2016. The Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress sole authority to set the rules and regulations regarding public lands. Congress delegated a portion of that authority with the Antiquities Act of 1906 by granting presidents the authority to designate public lands as national monuments. However, in our view, the Act does not grant a president the authority to eliminate or shrink a national monument designated by an earlier president. President Trump therefore violated the Property Clause of the Constitution when he acted beyond the authority granted under the Antiquities Act.
The original 1.4 million-acre monument is home to ancient cliff dwellings, sacred tribal cultural sites, diverse wildlife, and iconic recreation areas. Multiple groups filed lawsuits against Trump’s decision, including the Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, and the Ute Indian Tribe. These same Tribes originally petitioned for the creation of the monument. President Trump’s evisceration of the monument, which leaves only two non-contiguous units covering just 15 percent of the original monument’s extent, is a disservice to the vital yet delicate ecosystems of the area, the indigenous communities whose ancestors called this land home for millennia, and the many other Americans who flock to this incredible landscape to hike, bike, climb, or be inspired.