SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Utah officials are appealing a federal judge’s decision to throw out the state’s lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, which had been substantially downsized under the former President Donald Trump.
A brief filed Tuesday in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals argued that Biden’s restoration — and slight expansion — of more than 3.2 million acres of southern Utah desert to national monument status violated the Antiquities Act of 1906.
In a statement, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said Biden overstepped the bounds of his office as the president is restricted under the act to creating monuments “in the smallest area compatible with proper care and management.”
“These areas already have federal protections and don’t need more,” Reyes said. “What the public doesn’t realize is larger monuments make it much harder to protect sacred areas and objects.”
Among the arguments listed in the brief, which runs to 90 pages, is that restoring the lands to national monument status hurts Utah by leading to an increase in theft, vandalism and desecration in the landscapes beloved by many.
“In the case of these two reservations, what were once cherished places known only by locals have become soiled with trash, litter, and human biological waste,” the brief states. “Visitors drawn by the reservations have degraded local roads and brought unprecedented looting.”
This appeal to reinstate Utah’s lawsuit comes in the wake of an August decision from U.S. District Judge David Nuffer, who sided with Biden, saying that the president acted within his authority when he restored the monuments in 2021.
Following the judge’s ruling, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Biden’s restoration and expansion of the monuments ignored concerns from Utahns. He predicted the case would ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
For years the land encompassing the monuments in southeastern Utah has been at the center of heated debates over land use and protection, The Associated Press reports.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument, protecting a 1.7-million acre area roughly the size of Delaware. Twenty years later, President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears, protecting 1.3 million acres, among which were several historic and sporting resources.
Many Native Americans, moreover, consider the land on which both monuments are located to be sacred.
In 2017, President Donald Trump issued an order shrinking both monuments, slicing Grand Staircase nearly in half and reducing Bears Ears by roughly 85%. The move came as a boon to Utah Republicans, who had long found the rules governing monument land use too restrictive and responsible for stifling economic growth in some communities.
While Trump’s decision opened parts of the monuments up for mining, The AP reports, there was little interest from mining companies due to low demand and high production costs.
When Biden restored the monuments in October 2021, he expanded the borders of both monuments. Grand Staircase went from 1.7 million acres to over 1.88 million acres; Bears Ears went from 1.35 million acres to 1.36 million acres.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.