SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – Today, Attorney General Sean D. Reyes announced that his office filed a brief in Utah v. Biden over the president’s unlawful designation of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. The legal action was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit after a District Court Judge ruled against the State’s position in August.
General Reyes issued the following statement:
All along, the State of Utah has sought appropriate safeguards for the precious, unique area in the heart of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante regions. But, the current designations don’t just protect objects and artifacts as intended by the Antiquities Act. They lock up millions of other acres of landscapes, vistas and similarly vague concepts never contemplated by the Act.
President Biden’s designations are as large as several states—which far exceeds his authority and is an abuse of the Act. These areas already have federal protections and don’t need more. What the public doesn’t realize is larger monuments make it much harder to protect sacred areas and objects.
These designations require resources, planning and input from stakeholders and all those affected. D.C. is not listening to the realities of management, safety and other local issues.
We eagerly anticipate explaining to the Tenth Circuit why this is yet another example of federal overreach and how the law and facts favor more reasonable-sized monuments.
Utah’s challenge argues that the size of the two national monuments, covering vast landscapes of a combined 3.2 million acres, violated the Antiquities Act of 1906, which limits U.S. presidents to creating monuments “confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Both national monuments were created under the Clinton and Obama administrations, respectively. President Clinton designated approximately 1.7 million acres for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and President Obama reserved about 1.35 million acres. In 2017, Utah state legislators passed two resolutions to reflect their constituents’ frustration with the reservations, urging then-President Donald Trump to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument in full and to modify the boundaries of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. President Trump reduced the two reservations (a combined 1.11 million acres) later that year to allow for more targeted protection of specific sites and to revive the multiple-use approach in the remaining areas.
However, in October 2021, President Biden issued two proclamations that substantially enlarged the borders of both National Monuments. Under the Biden administration’s new designations, the land included in the Bears Ears National Monument was 1.36 million acres, and the land included in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was 1.87 acres. Combined, the 3.23 million acres of land encompassed by the reservations were twice as large as Delaware, four times larger than Rhode Island, and just shy of the size of Connecticut.