The Wilderness Society et al. v. Trump et al. (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument)
Nicknamed “the Science Monument,” the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in southern Utah features spectacular multihued cliffs and canyon systems that showcase millennia of sedimentary rock formations. Scientists come from all over the world to study Grand Staircase–Escalante’s unique fossil-containing sites, which offer an unparalleled window into the Late Cretaceous period. President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase–Escalante as a national monument in 1996, providing needed protection to its special geologic and historic treasures and its vividly beautiful landscapes.
Since its designation, research in the monument has flourished, yielding fossils of previously undiscovered dinosaur species and offering rare opportunities to study undisturbed desert ecosystems in situ. Yet the monument became a focus of the Trump administration’s anti-environmental agenda. On December 4, 2017, then president Donald Trump signed proclamations dismantling Grand Staircase–Escalante as well as the Bears Ears National Monument, also in Utah. Trump’s proclamation slashed Grand Staircase–Escalante by roughly half, leaving nearly a million acres of federal public land open to harmful developments—such as mineral exploitation, coal mining, new road construction, the use of mechanized vehicles, and oil and gas drilling—that could ruin vital parts of the paleontological record and the land's wild natural character.
NRDC—together with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and a coalition of other environmental groups represented by Earthjustice—immediately filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. (We also filed a separate lawsuit over Bears Ears.) A coalition of paleontologists and other monument supporters filed a similar lawsuit, and the district court consolidated the two cases. Our lawsuits asserted that Trump had neither the 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 restoring Grand Staircase–Escalante to its pre-Trump boundaries. 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 Grand Staircase–Escalante, 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 the monument still faces real threats from the Trump administration’s rollback, including from mining claims staked there on Trump’s watch. While our case is stayed, the federal government is still 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 Grand Staircase–Escalante remains permanently protected, as it deserves.
Case DocumentsThe Wilderness Society v. Trump complaint (PDF) Plaintiffs’ opposition to transfer (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 oral argument (PDF) Plaintiffs’ joint motion for a status conference (PDF) Exhibits with plaintiffs’ joint motion for a status conference (PDF) Defendants’ response to plaintiffs’ motion for a status conference (PDF) Exhibits with defendants’ response to plaintiffs’ motion for a status conference (PDF) Plaintiffs’ joint reply in support of their motion for a status conference (PDF) Order denying motion to dismiss (PDF) Court order regarding amended complains (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)