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The Southwest Utah Bureau is based in the St. George area, and the reporting focuses on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues, faith and spirituality and other topics of relevance to Utahns.

Lawsuits Over Bears Ears And Grand Staircase Reductions Move Forward With Conference Next Week

Photo of Bears Ears Buttes.
Erik Neumann

Legal challenges to President Donald Trump’s reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments may move forward, now that a federal judge has denied the Trump Administration’s requests that the cases be dismissed. 

The decision issued by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan on Monday orders the plaintiffs in both cases to update their complaints. After that, the Trump Administration can file new motions to dismiss the cases. 

Steve Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), which is a plaintiff in both cases, said the ruling is good news. 

“The upshot of the order is we’re one step closer to the day of reckoning for President Trump’s unlawful orders,” he said.

The two cases represent a consolidation of multiple lawsuits filed by conservation and tribal groups in relation to the reduction of the two national monuments in southern Utah. Bears Ears National Monument was created in 2016 by President Barack Obama, and Trump reduced it by approximately 85% in December 2017. 

Grand Staircase National Monument was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, and Trump reduced it by nearly 50% in 2017. Both cases argue that, under the Antiquities Act, only Congress has the authority to reduce the size of an existing monument. 

In both of the decisions issued Monday, Chutkan wrote that the court “would benefit from additional argument and information regarding the basis of [the] Plaintiffs’ standing.” 

That will help the judge determine whether the cases can be decided in U.S. District Court, according to EarthJustice Managing Attorney Heidi McIntosh. 

“We believe that we do have standing,” she said. “The monument roll backs clearly harm the conservation groups and the tribes that brought this challenge.”

The court has requested a meeting with the lawyers involved in both cases on Monday in Washington. Bloch with SUWA said the plaintiffs’ attorneys are prepared to speak to Chutkan about the Bureau of Land Management’s forthcoming monument management plans.

“The plaintiffs in both cases submitted brief notices to the court advising her that the plans are about to come out and that we would like to talk about that, and she has taken us up on that offer,” he said. 

This will help establish the plaintiffs’ standing and strengthen their complaints, Bloch said. According to the judge’s order, if the court rules that the plaintiffs have legal standing to bring both lawsuits, the cases will turn on the court’s interpretation of the Antiquities Act.

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