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Court dismisses Utah suits and upholds presidential authority to establish national monuments

August 15, 2023
Chris Krupp, WildEarth Guardians, (206) 417-6363, ckrupp@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Public Lands  
#ForceForNature, #PressStatement, #ProtectWhatYouLove
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A Utah federal judge on August 11 dismissed two lawsuits, led by the state of Utah, that attempted to undo President Biden’s restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and attacked the Antiquities Act as unlawful. In the ruling, District Judge David Nuffer emphasized that the Antiquities Act gives the president broad authority to designate national monuments and that the court could not second guess that judgment. The ruling upholds President Biden’s restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. To date, no court has been willing to review, much less reverse, the designation of a national monument.  

Conservation groups and five Tribes intervened in defense of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Antiquities Act. 

“We are pleased that the court has dismissed Utah’s claims that President Biden lacked the authority to restore designations for these two critical landscapes. With ongoing threats of mining and oil and gas drilling, it is imperative that we protect these sacred lands and the cultural, archeological, and wildlife resources they provide,” said Chris Krupp, public lands attorney with WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time for Utah politicians to listen to their constituents rather than their campaign donors and support Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

“Today’s result is another in a series of decisions that upholds a president’s authority to designate national monuments to protect important and vulnerable lands for the benefit of current and future generations,” said Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “Utah put forth a flawed argument that sought to eviscerate the Antiquities Act, but like others before them, they have failed to do so. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante protected these wonders from oil and gas drilling, mining, and other destructive uses. We are thrilled that the Court agreed and upheld President Biden’s restoration of these monuments.”

“Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments are prized by the American people and many tribes for whom the lands are sacred,” said Scott Miller, Southwest regional director for The Wilderness Society. “The court’s order dismissing Utah’s lawsuit is a win for these spectacular public lands, for the preservation of tribal cultures and resources, for the economies of local communities and for the rule of law.”

“Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments are two of the most significant, intact, and extraordinary public landscapes in America – landscapes that will remain protected after today’s dismissal of these lawsuits,” said Steve Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). “We are thrilled with today’s decision, which aligns with more than 100 years of similar court rulings that have rejected every challenge to Presidential authority under the Antiquities Act to protect cultural, scientific, ecological, and paleontological resources on public lands.”

“It’s been a banner week for national monuments on the Colorado Plateau,” said Tim Peterson, cultural landscapes director with the Grand Canyon Trust. “As we celebrate the creation of Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni − Ancestral Footprints of Grand Canyon National Monument, we rejoice at the news that the state of Utah’s lawsuit attempting to destroy Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments has been dismissed.”

“The courts have again reinforced the validity of the Antiquities Act to conserve America’s best places for future generations and for wild things,” said Laura Welp, vegetation projects lead for the Western Watersheds Project. “The president has the authority to protect some of the last intact western landscapes by establishing national monuments, full stop. We are pleased with the court’s affirmation of this fact and look forward to working on meaningful management of these special places.”

“For more than a century, the Antiquities Act has given the president the authority to establish national monuments – today’s ruling confirmed that authority,” said Carly Ferro, Sierra Club Utah chapter director. “National monuments protect the landscapes that compose our national story, preserving the histories, sites, and practices that tell us who we are. This ruling is a win for Utah’s past, present, and future. The Tribal Nations who call the landscapes of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante home have acted as their stewards since time immemorial. This ruling ensures they will continue to watch over these lands for generations to come.”

“Utah’s frivolous legal attacks are an embarrassment and an insult to our common natural heritage,” said Taylor McKinnon, Southwest director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Once again a judge has upheld presidential authority to safeguard our country’s cherished places from extractive industries. It’s a great relief to have these protections upheld for two of North America’s most iconic and remote landscapes and their remarkable cultural values and biodiversity.”