Statement: Federal judge rules that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase lawsuits will stay in DC courts

Sep 24, 2018

Bears Ears National Monument

Photo by Mason Cummings

Today Federal Judge Tanya S. Chutkan has ruled that two consolidated lawsuits filed against President Donald J. Trump and his administration for unlawfully slashing Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments will remain in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and that the Department of the Interior must keep the Plaintiffs advised before permitting any ground disturbing activities on the disputed lands.

The following statement is from Nada Culver, senior counsel for The Wilderness Society:

“We are pleased that Federal Judge Tanya S. Chutkan has agreed that it is the right of plaintiffs to choose where they sue. This includes the Tribal sovereign nations seeking to protect Bears Ears and is why the lawsuits opposing Trump’s actions can rightfully be heard in a federal court in the U.S. Capitol. National monuments belong to all Americans and not just individual states or the special interest groups that would exploit them for mining, drilling and development.

In attempting to slash vast swaths of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, Trump has not only flouted 112 years of conservation history, he has acted to revoke protections for culturally, historically and archeologically significant national treasures and exceeded his authority under the U.S. Constitution and the Antiquities Act of 1906. We look forward to proving that in court.

The judge also made it clear that the Interior Department cannot simply permit and approve mining activities on lands that should be protected under the original monument boundaries without keeping us apprised. The Interior Department will now be required to find a suitable method for sharing information and keeping the public informed of what is truly happening to lands, so we can take action to ensure they are protected.”



Links to judge's orders:
The Wilderness Society vs Trump
Hopi Tribe vs. Trump

On December 4th 2017, President Trump attempted to rescind Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah and replace them with five much smaller monuments. Overall, he eliminated 2 million acres of protections for the monuments– the largest rollback of federally protected lands in American history.  

Lawsuits: Five separate lawsuits were filed, arguing that only Congress has the power to reduce the size of national monuments. Plaintiffs include Native American tribes, scientists, and conservation and historic preservation organizations.

  • Bears Ears National Monument: Three lawsuits were filed in December 2017 and argued that the President did not have the authority to shrink the monument. Presiding Judge Chutkan announced in late January that all cases would be consolidated into Hopi Tribe v. Trump.
    • Hopi Tribe v. Trump: This lawsuit is led by five tribes—Hopi, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian—and was filed on December 4th.  
    • Utah Diné Bikéyah vs. Trump: This lawsuit was filed by a broad coalition representing American Indian tribes, recreation interests and paleontologists on December 6th. For its part, Patagonia insists the cuts would hurt the company financially by taking away recreation areas that provide “some of the best rock climbing in North America” used by its customers.
    • Natural Resources Defense Council v. Trump: This lawsuit is led by 11 conservation groups and was filed on December 7th.
  • Grand Staircase--Escalante National Monument: Two lawsuits were filed in December 2017 and argue that the President did not have the authority to shrink the monument. Presiding Judge Chutkan announced in late January that all cases would be consolidated into The Wilderness Society v. Trump.
    • The Wilderness Society vs. Trump: This lawsuit was filed by 10 environmental groups on December 4th.
    • Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) v. Trump: This lawsuit was filed by the non-profit on December 4th.
      • On January 20th, GSEP filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that that the 2017 Proclamation is beyond the President’s authority, and unconstitutional because it usurps Congress’ power over post designation monuments. If Judge Chutkan agrees with these arguments, she could grant summary judgment, resolving the case in Plaintiffs’ favor.

Key Legal Points:

  • The Antiquities Act of 1906 does not give the president legal authority to revoke or modify a monument—only to designate one.
  • President Trump’s revocation of protections would threaten objects of historic and scientific interest, including irreplaceable archaeological artifacts and paleontology sites. His action, if left standing, would leave “remarkable fossil, cultural, scenic and geological treasures exposed to immediate and ongoing harm.”
  • The national monuments, as designated by Presidents Obama and Clinton are legal, appropriate, and allow for the proper care and management of the objects of historic and scientific interest.
  • The land at issue was federal land at the time of designation and continues to be federal land, but land outside monuments is generally subject to fewer protections.

Guesstimated Legal Schedule:

  • October 1: DOJ will file a Motion to Dismiss (MTD) the case.
  • November 1: Plaintiffs will respond to the MTD.
  • November 15: DOJ files its reply in support of motion to dismiss. If she denies the MTD, Summary Judgment briefing will follow.
  • Late 2018: Amicus briefs are expected to be filed later this year.



Nada Culver