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National Monuments At Risk

Valley of the Gods, Bears Ears National Monument. (Bob Wick / BLM)

Oct. 8, 2021

For decades, Earthjustice has gone to court to enforce the laws that protect our national monuments — landscapes of extraordinary cultural, scientific, and ecological value.

These lands and waters experienced an unprecedented assault during the Trump administration — and a rigorous defense by Earthjustice and our partners. On Oct. 8, 2021, President Biden restored protections to the monuments that bore the Trump administration’s worst attacks.

Learn about the national monuments Earthjustice fought for:

The Antiquities Act

When President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906, he established a legal framework for the protection of national treasures. The law gives presidents the power to designate monuments on federal lands and waters — an authority granted by Congress that has for more than a century protected landscapes of extraordinary cultural, scientific and ecological value.

Pres. Teddy Roosevelt at Louisiana's Breton National Wildlife Refuge in 1915.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Teddy Roosevelt, 1915.

Every president since — with the exception of presidents Nixon, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush — has used the Antiquities Act to protect iconic places. The law has also been used to protect cultural heritage sites — from Stonewall to Cesar Chavez’s family home — and tell the more complete story of our nation.

In 2017, the Trump administration painted a bull’s eye on 27 national monuments. Any executive order revoking or diminishing a national monument would be contrary to law. The Congressional Research Service itself has found that the Antiquities Act does not authorize the president to repeal national monument designations. Only Congress has that authority. Numerous legal scholars have reached the same conclusion.

"The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes presidents to designate national monuments, but it does not give presidents the power to reverse the monuments created by their predecessors,” explained Earthjustice Managing Attorney Heidi McIntosh in a TIME Magazine op-ed.

“Congress’s intent was clear: The Antiquities Act was to be used to protect the nation’s archaeological, scenic, and scientific wonders. Not to destroy them.”

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Map of Bears Ears.

Bears Ears National Monument

Established: 2016
Bears Ears National Monument.
Photo courtesy of Marc Toso

How is Bears Ears special?
Bears Ears National Monument was designated in response to a concerted effort by the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribal governments to seek lasting protection for unique historic and contemporary cultural values and sites.

The monument stretches across scenic mesas, towering sandstone cliffs, and canyons that epitomize the beauty of southern Utah.

More than 100,000 Native American archaeological and cultural sites, some dating to 12,000 B.C., are protected in Bears Ears. Tribes continue to visit these lands to hold ceremonies and to connect with their ancestors. (See photos and videos.)

Cedar Mesa Citadel Ruins, Bears Ears National Monument.
Indian Creek, Bears Ears National Monument.
Photos by Bob Wick / BLM
From left: Cedar Mesa Citadel Ruins. Indian Creek.

Why are protections important?
Looting of archaeological sites, uranium mining, off-road vehicle use, and other activities have long threatened Bears Ears and are curtailed under national monument protections.

What happened?
On Dec. 4, 2017, the Trump administration illegally shrank the monument's boundaries by 85% — more than one million acres. The administration finalized plans in 2020 to open hundreds of thousands of acres of the original monument to drilling and mining. (See the areas stripped of protections.)

Earthjustice represented nine conservation organizations in a legal challenge to these destructive actions.

How were protections restored?
After a months-long review, the Biden administration issued a proclamation on Oct. 8, 2021, fully restoring protections to Bears Ears.

Our cases and the threat of further litigation helped to stave off some of the worst damage of industrial activities.

“We celebrate today as an act of vindication for the Tribes in their fight to preserve these sacred places, and for the many, many people across the country who believe public lands should be protected, and not exploited for short-term, corporate gain,” said Heidi McIntosh, Earthjustice attorney.

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Cedar Mesa Citadel Ruins, Bears Ears National Monument.
Photos by Bob Wick / BLM
Cedar Mesa Citadel Ruins. Indian Creek.
Map of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Established: 1996
Annual Visitors: 878,000
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Photos by Bob Wick / BLM
Left: Canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante. Right: World-class dinosaur excavations at the monument have yielded more information about ecosystem change at the end of the dinosaur era than almost any other place in the world.

How is Grand Staircase-Escalante special?
Home to dinosaur fossils found nowhere else in the world, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is often described as a “Dinosaur Shangri-la.”

In the two decades since the area was protected, paleontologists have unearthed fossils from 21 previously undiscovered dinosaur species. (See photos and maps.)

Why are protections important?
Fossils are largely found in the Kaiparowits Plateau, where the coal industry has long coveted access for mining. Without its protected status, Grand Staircase-Escalante would be vulnerable to coal mining and oil and gas development.

Two decades earlier, Earthjustice, on behalf of conservation groups, successfully defended Grand Staircase-Escalante when two Utah counties sought to expand use of off-road dirt bikes and ATVs within the monument area.

What happened?
On Dec. 4, 2017, the Trump administration stripped protections from more than half of Grand Staircase-Escalante — more than one million acres. Management plans finalized by the administration in 2020 opened hundreds of thousands of acres of the original monument to drilling and mining.

Representing eight conservation organizations, Earthjustice sued the administration within hours of the announcement, challenging the order as an abuse of the president’s power. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council were co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit and represented by in-house counsel. (See inside the legal case.)

How were protections restored?
After a months-long review, the Biden administration issued a proclamation on Oct. 8, 2021, fully restoring protections to Grand Staircase-Escalante.

“We’ll be prepared to defend these places against anyone who would try to challenge President Biden’s proclamation,” said Heidi McIntosh, Earthjustice attorney.

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Map of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts.
Atlantic Ocean

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

Established: 2016
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
Clockwise from top left: Ctenophore that has ingested another ctenophore (visible within), between Powell and Lydonia Canyons. Chimaera, deep-sea fish, Lydonia Canyon. Rarely seen pompom anemone, Physalia Seamount. White sponge with purple crinoids, Retriever Seamount. "Feather star" crinoids on bamboo coral, Mytilus Seamount. Octopus, Physalia Seamount.

How are the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts special?
The seamounts protected by the monument are biological oases of marine life and are the only ones found in U.S. Atlantic waters. Centuries-old cold-water corals form the foundation of this deep-sea ecosystem.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is a refuge for marine life and a buffer for the northwest Atlantic against the worst impacts of climate change. It is located off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., and is the nation’s first major marine national monument in the Atlantic. (See photos and videos.)

Why are protections important?
With these areas will go some of our best hope for restoring ecosystems that have been devastated by decades of overfishing and development.

The deep ocean is becoming more accessible to oil and gas exploration and industrial fishing with each advance in technology. If remaining marine reserves are not permanently protected now, they risk being destroyed.

What happened?
On World Environment Day in 2020, the Trump administration issued a proclamation that exposed the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts to harmful commercial fishing and resource extraction activities, such as bottom-scouring fishing.

“We condemn this action,” said Steve Mashuda, managing attorney of Earthjustice's Oceans Program, in response to the former president's actions. “And we are looking at every tool we have to support the fight against this.”

It wasn’t the first time that industrial interests threatened Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. Earthjustice — on behalf of our clients Zack Klyver, head naturalist at Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company in Maine, and the Center for Biological Diversity — and other groups intervened in an earlier lawsuit, opposing a fishing industry challenge to the designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. On Oct. 5, 2018, the D.C. District Court upheld President Obama’s designation of the monument.

How were protections restored?
On Oct. 8, 2021, the Biden administration issued a proclamation restoring protections to the Northeast Canyons and Seamount National Monument. The order cancels former President Trump’s attempt to shrink the monument and halts all commercial fishing in the area.

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Map of Cascade-Siskiyou.
Oregon & California

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

Established: 2000 (Expanded: 2017)
Annual Visitors: 337,091
Great grey owl, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
Southern Long-toed Salamander on lichen covered rock, Parsnip Lakes, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Oregon.
Western Fence Lizard, Lincoln, Oregon.
Top row from left: Hans Spliter / CC BY-ND 2.0; BLM. Bottom row: © Steven David Johnson
© Steven David Johnson
Clockwise from top left: Great gray owl (Strix nebulosa). Along the Pacific Crest Trail in the monument, summer of 2015. Pacific chorus frogs (Pseudacris regilla) are a ubiquitous presence in the monument. Tail of a juvenile western skink (Plestiodon skiltonianus). Pacific chorus frogs (Pseudacris regilla) are a ubiquitous presence in the monument.

How is Cascade-Siskiyou special?
The first monument designated specifically for its vibrant biodiversity, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument protects public forests, meadows, mountains and streams spanning Oregon and Northern California.

Why are protections important?
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument area serves as a biological corridor for plants and animals to move between distinct eco-regions, providing a gateway for the Pacific fisher, mule deer, gray wolves and spotted owls, among other species, and also a designated winter range for black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk. Seventy scientists and the governments of the two towns closest to the monument joined a call in 2011 from 15 independent scientists for an expansion of the monument.

What happened?
The timber industry and its allies, who would like to open up these forests for unsustainable logging, have brought three lawsuits.

Trump administration officials met with county and timber industry representatives challenging the United States in federal district court over the expansion of Cascade-Siskiyou — without public notice to organizations and entities that support the monument, including Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, and Governor Brown.

What is Earthjustice doing to maintain protections?
Attorneys in Earthjustice's Northwest Regional Office are part of a team defending Cascade-Siskiyou in court.

In 2019, a federal judge upheld the expansion of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, rejecting an Oregon logging company's argument that monument lands should be reserved for timber production only. A federal judge in Washington D.C., however, issued a contrary decision, finding in favor of a timber industry coalition that the monument expansion violated the law.

Both rulings are on appeal to the 9th and D.C. Circuits, respectively. Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center represent Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Oregon Wild as defendant-intervenors in these cases.

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Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
Bob Wick / BLM
Southern long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum sigillatum) on lichen-covered rock.
© Steven David Johnson
Hobart's Bluff, Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
Clockwise from top: Bob Wick / BLM. Frank D. Lospalluto / CC BY 2.0. © Steven David Johnson. © Steven David Johnson.
Clockwise from top: Sledding in the monument. Adult male Williamson's sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus), near Hyatt Lake. Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) in the spring. Southern long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum sigillatum) on lichen-covered rock, Parsnip Lakes area. Sledding in the monument. Southern long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum sigillatum) on lichen-covered rock.