Garfield County et al. v. Biden et al. and Dalton et al. v. Biden et al. (Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments)

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Valley of the Gods in Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Credit: Bob Thomason/Getty Images

For years, across multiple rounds of litigation, NRDC has been working alongside our partners to defend Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments in southern Utah. Both monuments were declared under the Antiquities Act, which authorizes the protection of federal land to preserve “objects of historic or scientific interest.” 

These national monuments are truly special places: Their remote mesas, meadows, cliffs, and canyons safeguard sites of extraordinary scientific, historical, and cultural importance. Grand Staircase–Escalante features unparalleled fossils from the Late Cretaceous period, informing the work of scientists all over the world. Bears Ears represents ancestral homelands of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Indian Tribe, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe; created at the urging of the five tribes, the monument protects rock art, dwellings, and countless other cultural sites dispersed throughout the landscape. 

In 2017, then president Donald Trump signed proclamations dismantling both monuments, opening nearly a million acres to harmful industrial uses, including coal mining and oil and gas drilling. NRDC and our partners sued to block Trump’s unprecedented rollbacks. While our lawsuits were pending, President Joe Biden took office and initiated a review of Trump’s rollbacks. In October 2021, Biden issued new proclamations, fully restoring both monuments. 

Now, the monuments are under attack once again, this time in federal court in Utah. In August 2022, the state of Utah and two Utah counties filed a lawsuit, Garfield County v. Biden, which challenges the restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante. Shortly afterward, private plaintiffs—including an off-road vehicle enthusiast group, a uranium miner, and other monument opponents—filed a similar lawsuit, Dalton v. Biden. Both lawsuits ask the court to nullify the monuments, contending that they are too large and that they protect objects that don’t merit protection under the Antiquities Act.

In November 2022, NRDC, together with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other environmental groups, moved to intervene to defend the monuments. Our motion followed a separate motion by the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, who intervened to defend their interests in Bears Ears. The court granted the tribes’ intervention motion in December 2022, and it granted NRDC’s motion in March 2023.

Briefing is now underway. The federal defendants have moved to dismiss both complaints, and the Dalton plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment.

Case Documents

Garfield County plaintiffs’ complaint, August 24, 2022 (PDF) Dalton plaintiffs’ complaint, August 25, 2022 (PDF) NRDC-SUWA motion to intervene in Garfield County, November 22, 2022 (PDF) NRDC-SUWA motion to intervene in Dalton, November 22, 2022 (PDF) Order granting tribes’ motion to intervene, December 7, 2022 (PDF) Federal defendants response to intervention, December 27, 2022 (PDF) Garfield County opposition to intervention, December 27, 2022 (PDF) NRDC-SUWA reply in support of intervention, January 6, 2023 (PDF) Dalton plaintiffs’ amended complaint, January 26, 2023 (PDF) Garfield County plaintiffs’ amended complaint, January 26, 2023 (PDF) Federal defendants’ motion to dismiss, March 2, 2023 (PDF) Dalton plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, March 9, 2023 (PDF) Order granting NRDC’s motion to intervene, March 17, 2023 (PDF)
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