SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah and two Republican-leaning rural counties sued the Biden administration on Wednesday over the president’s decision last year to restore two sprawling national monuments on rugged lands sacred to Native Americans that former President Donald Trump had downsized.
The lawsuit over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, the two southeastern Utah monuments, alleges that President Joe Biden’s action violates a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historically, geographically or culturally important and outlines the rules governing when they can do so.
The fate of the monuments is among the United States’ most prominent battles over public lands and how they’re managed. Federal land management decisions often become politically charged throughout the rural West, where Republican-leaning ranching communities skeptical of federal overreach are often pitted against conservationists and tribes who argue robust federal protections are needed as a bulwark against development or industries like mining or logging.
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The new lawsuit is the latest twist in a yearslong debate spanning three presidential administrations. Its arguments revisit familiar legal and political debates and touch on points Republicans have for years repeated in court and in campaign speeches about federal land grabs and advantages of local land management.
The challenge from Utah and two right-leaning rural jurisdictions, Kane and Garfield counties, had been expected since Biden restored the lands in October 2021. At that time, Biden called Bears Ears “a place of reverence and a sacred homeland to hundreds of generations of native peoples.”
The monuments, which together are nearly the size of Connecticut, contain canyons surrounded by pink ribbons of limestone, dramatic red rock mesas and buttes, juniper forests and Native American artifacts including ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.
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In a Wednesday joint statement in support of the lawsuit, Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah’s entire congressional delegation accused the federal government of not properly managing the land and blamed the expanded monuments for “unmanageable visitation levels.”
“We now challenge this repeated, abusive federal overreach to ensure that our public lands are adequately protected and that smart stewardship remains with the people closest to the land,” said the group, whose signatories included U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration had no comment about the lawsuit.