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Monument Lawsuits Start To Stack Up

Julia Ritchey
Jonathan Nez, Vice President of the Navajo Nation, speaks at a press conference on Dec. 4 in response to Trump's cuts to Utah monuments. The Navajo Nation is one of five tribes that are filing suit over the orders.

Environmental groups and Native American tribes wasted no time in filing lawsuits to stop the Trump administration's vast cuts to two Utah national monuments. Filing suit on Tuesday were five Native American tribes, including The Navajo Nation, Native American Rights Fund, which represents the Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and the Ute Indian Tribe. The suit comes just a day after President Trump signed proclamations reducing the size of the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by half. 

“President Trump’s decision, like many of his other decisions, demonstrates that this administration has a reckless disregard for the Constitution and the limits that it places on federal power,” said Justin Pidot, counsel to the Native American Rights Fund, during a conference call with reporters. 

Pidot said they will argue that under the U.S. Constitution, the president doesn't have the right to undo designations made under the Antiquities Act, that’s the job of Congress.

Charles Wilkinson, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law in Boulder, said the tribal group is confident they’ll have no trouble showing that thousands of sites would lose protections as a result of Trump’s order.

“If Secretary Zinke said there aren’t objects in the area taken out of the monument, I would say with all due respect that that is laughable,' he said. 

Coalition representatives said they’ll call for a temporary injunction only if necessary. 

Tribal groups are not alone on the list of those filing lawsuits. 

Drew Caputo is an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm. He said environmental and Native American groups had plenty of time to prepare their response to reports of dramatic reductions at the monuments.

"This is a really important site. I actually cannot believe that we're having a debate about whether these lands are worth protecting," said Caputo. "They're not sort of valuable lands, they're among the most valuable lands in the federal system and they belong to all of us."

Joining Earthjustice are Utah-based nonprofits like the Friends of Cedar Mesa and the Grand Canyon Trust. Outdoor retailer Patagonia also signaled it would file suit this week. 

Bob Nelson is a graduate of the University of Utah with a BA in mass communications. He began his radio career at KUER in 1978 when it was still in Kingsbury Hall. That’s also where he met his wife, Maria Shilaos, in 1981. Bob left KUER for commercial radio where he worked for 25 years, and he is thrilled to be back at KUER. Bob and his family are part of an explorer group, fondly known as The Hordes and Masses, which has been seeking out ghost towns and little-known places in Utah for more than twenty years.
Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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