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Two lawsuits target federal protections for Utah's national monuments

Storm Brewing Sun Hits Red Rock Walls Grand Staircase-Escalante
Christopher Boswell
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Adobe Stock
According to the Bureau of Land Management, Grand Staircase-Escalante spans across 1.87 million acres of America's public lands in Southern Utah.

Conservation groups are pushing to keep federal protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah.

Boundaries of the two monuments were significantly reduced by President Donald Trump five years ago, but were restored by the Biden administration. Now, conservation groups have filed a motion to intervene in two lawsuits, one headed by the State of Utah and the other headed by number of plaintiffs including the Blueribbon Coalition, an off-road vehicle advocacy group, that challenge federal protection of these lands.

One suit targets the Antiquities Act, saying the monument areas are too large and essentially deprive the state of resources. Steve Bloch at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said groups like his are working alongside the Biden administration to ensure protection continues.

"That's the really high level, is that it really comes down to who gets to call the shots on these lands. And then, I think there are some interests who want to see these landscapes exploited for short-term financial gain instead of long-term preservation," Bloch said.

It's only been a couple of months since the lawsuits were filed, so Bloch said they're in the preliminary stages. He added that the lawyers representing the state want the US Supreme Court to hear their case, where the court's conservative majority could possibly undo the Antiquities Act.

"It is a real black eye on the state that they would seek to undo the monuments, seek to open these areas again to types of extractive uses — like oil and gas, like coal, like hard-rock mining, like off-road vehicle use," Bloch said.

Bloch said he's disappointed the state isn't embracing the opportunity to protect these areas and work with Tribes to safeguard land that is iconic to Utah.