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Tribes, conservation groups file motions in lawsuits challenging Utah monument restoration

In 2021 President Joe Biden restored the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah after it was shrunk by the Trump administration by 85% in 2017.

Several tribes and environmental groups have filed legal motions in lawsuits challenging the restoration of national monuments in southern Utah. The groups aim to defend President Joe Biden’s protections of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

The Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni and more than half a dozen conservation groups have filed motions to intervene in two lawsuits. The suits were filed in August by the state of Utah and two counties, and another by recreationists and a mining company. The lawsuits seek to overturn Biden’s 2021 restoration of the monuments. They also target his use of the Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to enact broad protections on federal lands. The groups say the lawsuits are flawed and would eliminate desperately needed safeguards.

“Bears Ears sustains life. Bears Ears provides food, medicine, cultural items, and ceremony sites,” said Zuni Pueblo Lieutenant Governor Carleton R. Bowekaty in a statement. “As sovereign nations and Bears Ears National Monument co-managers, we have the right to intervene in these lawsuits. As stewards and people of this land, we hold a responsibility to protect Bears Ears.”

In 2017, former President Donald Trump slashed Bears Ears by 85% and Grand Staircase by nearly half. The groups say Trump’s move itself was unlawful and that the Antiquities Act doesn’t include the power to shrink monuments.

The 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears is home to thousands of sacred and cultural Indigenous sites. Tribes also say it provides food and medicine for Native peoples throughout the region.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.