NRDC et al. v. Trump et al. (Bears Ears National Monument)

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Credit: Arlene Treiber Waller/Shutterstock

Bears Ears National Monument protects a spectacular living landscape in southeastern Utah, the ancestral homeland of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Indian Tribe, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Amid its desert mesas, meadows, and sandstone canyons, cliffs, and rock arches, Bears Ears safeguards countless cultural sites, including dwellings, kivas, granaries, and rock art, which hold deep cultural and religious importance for the tribes today. President Barack Obama established the monument in 2016 based on the tribes’ proposal, which NRDC and its partners supported, and formally recognized the tribes’ role in stewarding the land by creating the Bears Ears Commission.

Bears Ears became a focus of the Trump administration’s anti-environmental fervor, and in December 2017, then president Donald Trump signed proclamations purporting to dismantle Bears Ears and another national monument, Grand Staircase–Escalante, also in southern Utah. Trump’s proclamation slashed Bears Ears by roughly 85 percent, replacing it with two much smaller, noncontiguous monument “units” and leaving the rest of the area vulnerable to harmful developments such as uranium mining, oil and gas drilling, road construction, and the use of mechanized vehicles.

Within hours of the proclamation, five Native American tribes filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., challenging the president’s action as unlawful. Two days later, NRDC—along with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and a coalition of other environmental groups represented by Earthjustice—followed with our own lawsuit. (We filed a similar lawsuit over Grand Staircase–Escalante earlier the same week.) A third group of plaintiffs—including grassroots organization Utah Diné Bikéyah, outdoor retailer Patagonia, and others—also sued, and the district court consolidated the lawsuits. All three lawsuits asserted that Trump had neither constitutional nor statutory authority to dismantle national monuments. In January 2020, we moved for summary judgment

While we were awaiting the district court’s decision, Trump’s presidency ended, and President Joe Biden—on his first day in office—issued an executive order initiating a review of Trump’s monument rollbacks. Then, on October 8, 2021, President Biden issued a proclamation that restored Bears Ears to its original boundaries, plus another 11,200 acres that had been added to the monument in 2017. The Biden administration repudiated Trump’s rollback as “unprecedented,” observing that NRDC and our partners’ lawsuits “raised serious and fundamental questions as to whether a president has authority to reduce boundaries or core protections in a way that is tantamount to revocation of a monument.” President Biden restored Bears Ears, the White House explained, to uphold “the long-standing principle that America’s national parks, monuments, and other protected areas are to be protected for all time and for all people.”

In light of the Biden administration’s actions, the district court has “stayed” (paused) our litigation. But Bears Ears still faces real threats from the Trump administration’s rollback, including from mining claims staked there on Trump’s watch. While our litigation is stayed, the federal government is required to provide us with timely notice of potentially harmful developments. Separately, the state of Utah and other monument opponents have filed legal challenges to Biden’s restoration proclamation, and NRDC has intervened to defend the restored monument. We will continue to advocate alongside our partners to ensure that Bears Ears remains permanently protected, as it deserves.

Case Documents

Complaint filed against Trump administration to block action on Bears Ears National Monument (PDF) Court order denying transfer and requiring notice (PDF) Federal defendants’ motion to dismiss (PDF) Court order regarding defendants’ notice obligations (PDF) Plaintiffs’ opposition to federal defendants’ motion to dismiss (PDF) Federal defendants’ reply in support of their motion to dismiss (PDF) Court order granting intervention (PDF) Intervenors’ brief in support of the motion to dismiss (PDF) Plaintiffs’ joint response to Intervenors’ brief (PDF) Joint motion for hearing date (PDF) Plaintiffs’ joint motion for status conference (PDF) Order denying motion to dismiss (PDF) Court order regarding amended complaints (PDF) Amended complaint (PDF) Motion for summary judgment – brief (PDF) Motion for summary judgment – statement of undisputed facts (PDF) Government’s cross-motion for summary judgment (PDF) Government’s statement of undisputed facts (PDF) Intervenors’ brief in support of federal defendants (PDF) Plaintiffs’ opposition and reply brief (PDF) Plaintiffs’ response statement of facts (PDF) Government’s motion to stay (PDF) Court order granting unopposed motion to stay (PDF) Status report, June 3, 2021 (PDF) Status report, April 14, 2023 (PDF)

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