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Utah Reopens Fight Over National Monuments

Some of America’s most iconic national parks got their start as national monuments, and these protected places encompass some of the most special and memorable landscapes in the world. But now the state of Utah is trying to shrink two national monuments and challenge the bedrock law that allows for the protection of some the nation’s most vulnerable and sacred places.

This is a fight that connects with the heart of the Earthjustice mission – defending these monuments will help to protect public lands and face down the destructive threat of fossil fuels.

How’d We Get Here?

  • In 2017, former President Donald Trump shrank the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and that of Grand Staircase-Escalante by 45%.
  • Without federal protections, looting and vandalism was common in the Bears Ears area: Artifacts were stolen, ancient drawings were vandalized, and pottery was destroyed. Destruction by off-road vehicles and mining proposals threatened the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well.
  • To defend these monuments, Earthjustice worked with a coalition of clients and partners to challenge the Trump administration’s rollbacks in court. Fortunately, President Biden restored the monuments in 2021.

Utah’s Folly

  • Now, nearly a year later, the state of Utah, along with mining interests and an off-road vehicle group, has attacked the monuments in court.
  • Not only is the state seeking to shrink the monuments, it is also attacking the Antiquities Act itself, a century-old bedrock law that both Republican and Democratic presidents have used to protect some of America’s most beloved places.
  • Earthjustice and our partners are committed to using all available legal tools to protect both the monuments and the law that enables their protection.

Why It Matters

  • The importance to Native tribes of the land protected as Bears Ears National Monument can hardly be overstated. A partnership between the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni governments led the efforts to achieve Bears Ears’ designation as a national monument.
  • Without protection, both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are vulnerable to fossil fuel and uranium companies who would destroy the land and to looters who would pick it clean of artifacts and despoil sacred sites.
  • Monuments protected by the federal government encompass some of the most beloved and unique pieces of the American landscape. Grand Staircase-Escalante, for one, is known as “Dinosaur Shangri-La” for its rich reserve of precious fossils found nowhere else in the world.
  • Many public lands originally protected as monuments (including spots such as the Grand Canyon, Olympic, Zion, Acadia, and Grand Teton) later become national parks.

What Happens Next?

  • Earthjustice, the conservation community, tribes, business organizations, and others will fight to protect both the magnificent places and resources in the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, and to defend the Antiquities Act as an essential conservation tool. 
  • Learn more about Earthjustice's work to protect public lands and waters.
The Procession Panel, Bears Ears National Monument.

The Procession Panel in Bears Ears National Monument is at least 1,000 years old.

Photo courtesy of Marc Toso