SALT LAKE CITY — Republican state leaders in Utah sued the Biden administration on Wednesday over the president’s decision last year to restore two sprawling national monuments on rugged lands sacred to Native Americans that former President Donald Trump had downsized.
The lawsuit over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, the two monuments, alleges that President Joe Biden’s action violates the authority granted in a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historically, geographically or culturally important.
The argument has been repeated for years by Republicans in court and in campaign speeches and the legal challenge from Utah and right-leaning counties had been expected since Biden made the move in October 2021, when he called Bears Ears “a place of reverence and a sacred homeland to hundreds of generations of native peoples.”
The lawsuit is the latest twist in a yearslong debate spanning three presidential administrations about proper protections of lands that include ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.
Public lands and how they’re managed often become politically contentious in rural parts of Western states, pitting Republican-leaning ranching communities skeptical of federal overreach against conservationists and tribes who argue robust federal protections are needed as a bulwark against development or industries like mining or logging.
The part of southeastern Utah where the two monuments are located has been at the center of some of the country’s most heated land management debates since then-President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase a national monument in 1996.
Together, the monuments encompass an area nearly the size of Connecticut, and were created by Democratic administrations.
Trump’s decision to cut them in size opened them for mining and other development, although market dynamics kept that in check.
“President Biden made no attempt to explain how 3.23 million acres constituted the ‘smallest area compatible with the proper care and management’ of these supposed monuments,” the lawsuit claims, citing the 1906 Antiquities Act outlining rules for designating national monuments.
Two southern Utah counties, Kane and Garfield, joined the lawsuit.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday afternoon that the administration did not have any comment about the lawsuit.
Story by Sam Metz and Brady McCombs. Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.