Case Summary

President Clinton and President Obama created two illegal national monuments in rural Utah, causing serious economic harm to the hard-working westerners who live in the area. President Trump reversed the land grab but was sued for his efforts to restore the rule of law.

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Status

Court

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Case History

When President Clinton ordered the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, closing off 1.9 million acres of public land to the productive uses that have traditionally supported western communities, residents were promised the resulting tourism boom would more than make up for the loss of ranching, mining, logging, and other economic activities.  The tourists, however, never came and local economies never recovered. 

After President Trump, based upon recommendations by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke after a thorough study, announced in late 2017 that he was reducing the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the Bears Ears National Monument (an eleventh-hour decree issued by President Obama in 2016), the action was immediately challenged by radical environmental groups and the billion-dollar corporation Patagonia.  The groups, all totaled, raised $390 million for the latest year available and bragged of assets of more than $855 million.

The President of the United States has been delegated the authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate as national monuments “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” on federal lands.”  The Act also mandates that the designations “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” 

The Act was passed to provide “protection to the large Indian ruins of the southwest.”  Its legislative history proves that Congress was concerned singularly with “the preservation of the remains of the historic past[,]” and that its entire and sole purpose was in order “to create small reservations reserving only so much land as may be absolutely necessary for the preservation of these interesting relics of prehistoric times.”  Congress “specifically rejected broader versions of the law that included protection of scenic areas within the Act.”  

Unfortunately, however, presidents of both parties have long abused this power by designating huge swaths of federal land as national monuments on only the thinnest of justifications—as was the case with the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante and 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears designations. 

In 1997, Mountain States Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the creation of the vast Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and in 2017 urged President Trump to revoke the decrees issued by Clinton and Obama.

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