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Sean D. Reyes
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Utah to join in the monuments cases

October 29, 2018

The State of Utah is seeking to intervene in two lawsuits over the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante Monuments. That means we would become a co-defendant with the federal government. For a little light reading, you can read our Motion to Intervene on both lawsuits at the links below. 

Bears Ears Motion to Intervene

Grand Staircase Escalante Motion to Intervene

In Utah, these cases matter. A lot. From the motions, linked above:

The State has substantial interests, including sovereign interests, in the management of millions of acres of public land within its borders. Management of this land has direct and indirect economic impacts on the State and its citizens and directly implicates property rights held in trust by the State to support schools. Disposition of this matter in favor of Plaintiffs would impede the State’s ability to protect these interests; such a disposition could deprive the State of revenue and jeopardize the full use of the property rights it holds for the benefit of all Utahns. Intervention is also necessary because the Federal Defendants are not capable of adequately representing the State’s unique interests.

You’ll remember that the AG’s Office opposed the original designation of the Bears Ears National Monument, then applauded the new administration’s modifications in size, scope, and management. When those modifications were challenged, we joined with Kane, San Juan, and Garfield Counties to support the Department of Justice’s request that these two cases be heard in Utah. Local issues should be heard locally. However, that petition was denied and the hearings will roll forward in D.C.

Now, Utah seeks to become a defendant in order to present the state’s unique and essential perspective on the restructuring of the monuments. 

Stay tuned – and thanks for paying attention.

Lands within the Uncompahgre

In June, Attorney General Reyes and Assistant AG Allison Garner sat with the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands to discuss several issues, including the recent Uncompahgre Reservation litigation and what that means for Utah.  You can listen in to the entire conversation, embedded at the bottom of this post.  The discussion on the Uncompahgre starts at about 13:34.

Earlier this year, the Ute Tribe filed four cases stating the United States Federal Government violated several statutes by giving, selling and leasing land on the Uncompahgre Reservation to nontribal members. The 28 claims include alleged breached contracts, natural resource revenues, and a violation of the Fifth Amendment by taking property without paying for it.

The Office of the Utah Attorney General has been carefully monitoring the progress of this case.


One of many reasons is there are sections of land scattered throughout the Uncompahgre, held in trust since statehood, on which millions of dollars in potential oil and gas revenue could be generated for Utah schools. The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration oversees those trust sections. While the case doesn’t mention SITLA specifically, the impact on SITLA could be extensive, and a major source of funding for Utah schools might be in jeopardy. 

The tribe is asking that the control of lands be taken from the Bureau of Land Management and restored to the tribal authority. And the Ute Tribe needs to do what is best for the Tribe.  

The Office of the Attorney General, in turn, needs to do what’s best for Utah. 

Although we haven’t decided to weigh in yet, we continue to watch with interest. 

Learn more at the links and audio embed, below.  

Salt Lake Tribune: Ute Tribe takes U.S. government to court over ‘theft’ of land and water in historic Uncompahgre

Salt Lake Tribune: Fearing Utah could lose millions in school revenue, attorney general wants state to step in on Ute Tribe’s land lawsuits

Holland & Hart: Ute Indian Tribe Asserts Ownership of All Federal Lands in the Uncompahgre Reservation