Protection of Southern Utah national monuments under attack

FILE - In this June 22, 2016, file photo, the "House on Fire" ruins are shown in Mule Canyon, near Blanding, Utah. President Joe Biden expanded sprawling national monuments in Utah, the governor said Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. President Donald Trump's administration in 2017 significantly downsized Bears Ears National Monuments and Grand Staircase-Escalante in southern Utah | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Conservation groups are pushing to keep federal protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah.

In this Dec. 4, 2017, file photo, former President Donald Trump signs the hat of Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, after signing a proclamation to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments, in Salt Lake City, Utah | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Boundaries of the two monuments were significantly reduced by President Donald Trump five years ago, but restored by the Biden administration. Now, conservation groups have filed a motion to intervene in two lawsuits, one headed by the State of Utah and the other headed by a number of plaintiffs including the BlueRibbon Coalition, an off-road vehicle advocacy group, challenging federal protection of these lands.

One suit targets the Antiquities Act, saying the monument areas are too large and essentially deprive the state of resources.

Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said groups like his are working alongside the Biden administration to ensure protection continues.

“That’s the really high level, is that it really comes down to who gets to call the shots on these lands,” Bloch explained. “I think there are some interests who want to see these landscapes exploited for short-term financial gain instead of long-term preservation.”

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is the first national monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management beginning in 1996, Utah, date unspecified | Photo provided by Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

Several tribal nations have also become involved. The Bears Ears National Monument was established by President Barack Obama. Grand Staircase-Escalante was declared a national monument by President Bill Clinton in 1996. It is said to be home to many dinosaur fossils that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

It has only been a couple of months since the lawsuits were filed, so Bloch noted they are in the preliminary stages. He added the lawyers representing the state want the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case, where the court’s conservative majority could possibly undo the Antiquities Act.

“It is a real black eye on the state that they would seek to undo the monuments,” Bloch said. “Seek to open these areas again to types of extractive uses – like oil and gas, like coal, like hard-rock mining, like off-road vehicle use.”

Bloch stressed he is disappointed the state is not embracing the opportunity to protect the areas and work with tribes to safeguard land iconic to Utah.

Written by ALEX GONZALEZ, producer for Utah News Connection.

Read the original article here.

Copyright Public News Service, all rights reserved.

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