The Wilderness Society et al. v. Trump et al. (Grand Staircase-Escalante)


In a move that stripped legal protections from nearly two million acres of federal public lands, President Trump on December 4, 2017, signed presidential proclamations dismantling two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both in southern Utah.

Featuring spectacular multihued cliffs and canyon systems that showcase millennia of sedimentary rock formations, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is home to fossils that offer an unparalleled window into the Late Cretaceous period. Scientists come from all over the world to study Grand Staircase-Escalante’s paleontological sites, which have yielded more than 20 previously undiscovered dinosaur species. President Trump’s proclamation slashed the monument by roughly half, replacing it with three much smaller "units" and leaving the rest of the area open to harmful developments such as mineral exploration, coal mining, new road construction, the use of mechanized vehicles, and oil and gas drilling. With such actions, Trump is compromising vital parts of the paleontological record, ruining the land's wild natural character, and destroying the resources the monument was created to protect.

Within hours of the president's proclamation, NRDC and a coalition of other environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (Relatedly, we also filed a separate lawsuit over Bears Ears later that week.) Our lawsuit challenges Trump’s action as unlawful because the president has neither constitutional nor statutory authority to dismantle national monuments created under the Antiquities Act of 1906. A coalition of paleontologists and other monument supporters filed a similar lawsuit, and in January 2018, the district court consolidated the two cases.

After their motion to transfer the cases to the federal court in Utah was denied, the federal defendants moved to dismiss the cases in October 2018. We and our fellow plaintiffs filed briefs opposing dismissal on November 15, 2018, reiterating that Trump’s proclamation overstepped presidential authority. The court has not yet ruled on the motion.

While the cases are pending, there is a real risk of harm to the lands excised from Grand Staircase-Escalante. The court has therefore ordered the federal government to provide plaintiffs with timely notice before beginning a range of potentially harmful developments within these now-vulnerable lands. 

Last Updated

October 01, 2018

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