The Wilderness Society et al. v. Trump et al. (Grand Staircase-Escalante)
On December 4, 2017, then-president Trump signed proclamations dismantling two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante, both in southern Utah. The move stripped legal protections from nearly two million acres of federal public lands that hold incomparable cultural, archaeological, paleontological, cultural, and ecological significance.
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 previously undiscovered dinosaur species. President Trump’s proclamation slashed the monument by roughly half, leaving nearly a million acres 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.
Within hours of the president's proclamation, NRDC—together with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and a coalition of other environmental groups represented by Earthjustice—filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. (We filed a separate lawsuit over Bears Ears later that week.) A coalition of paleontologists and other monument supporters filed a similar lawsuit, and the district court consolidated the two cases. As both lawsuits explain, the president had neither constitutional nor statutory authority to dismantle national monuments.
On January 9, 2020, we moved for summary judgment. While we were awaiting the district court’s decision, Trump’s presidency ended, and President Biden took office promising to restore protections to national monuments. On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order initiating a review of Trump’s rollbacks to Bears Ears, Grand Staircase–Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. We are urging President Biden to fulfill his promise and swiftly restore full protections to all three monuments.
Given the possibility of presidential action, the Biden administration has requested—and the district court has granted—a stay of the court proceedings. In the meantime, however, the lands excised from Grand Staircase–Escalante remain at risk of long-lasting harm. The court has therefore ordered the federal government to provide plaintiffs with timely notice before beginning a range of potentially harmful developments within these vulnerable lands.