The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) filed a lawsuit three days after President Donald Trump’s proclamation rescinding Bears Ears National Monument and replacing it with two smaller monuments. The move follows a suit by five Native American tribes, previously reported by The Times-Independent. The Hopi, the Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe and the Navajo Nation joined together to file the lawsuit the day of the president’s proclamation.
Following in the tribes’ footsteps, SUWA has joined with a coalition of nine conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, to file a suit in the Washington, D.C. district court. The coalition includes the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the National Resource Defense Council and others.
“The two complaints raise, as I look at them, largely the same suit of issues,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for SUWA, “The core … of the three different lawsuits that have been filed over the president’s unlawful actions with regards to Bears Ears revolve around the fact that the Antiquities Act is a one-way grant of authority to establish national monuments, not to repeal or try and repeal and replace prior presidents’ actions and then also, it’s a violation of the separation of powers that Congress has, through the Antiquities Act, delegated the authority to establish monuments and reserved for itself the right to repeal or, for example, change a national monument into a national park.”
Previous administrations have made small reductions to national monument boundaries, but the Bears Ears National Monument reduction is larger than those previous changes. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke argued on Dec. 4 that the Antiquities Act was misused when Bears Ears was designated.
“I’ve become an expert in monuments,” Zinke said. “And the Antiquities Act was never intended to prevent, it was intended to protect.”
“It was more about control than it was about protection,” said San Juan County Commission Chair Bruce Adams.
Adams told National Public Radio, “[Trump] listened to the local people, even though they weren’t millions of voters, only 15,000 people in our community. He understands what rural communities are about.”
The lawsuit comes amid reports by The Washington Post and other media outlets that uranium firms lobbied the administration to shrink Bears Ears. Bureau of Land Management’s Monticello Field Office has rated several areas within the former Bears Ears National Monument as having “high potential” for uranium development.
The proclamation started a 60-day clock running that ends on or around Feb. 2, Bloch said. After that time, lands formerly included in Bears Ears National Monument will be open to new mining claims.
“I think there’s a very real fear that we and others have that companies like Energy Fuels Resources or other smaller prospectors are going to in short order head out and locate new mining claims in the lands that were formerly protected as a part of Bears Ears National Monument … So we’re going to be watching really closely as that 60-day window comes to a close,” Bloch said.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said that questions of mining or drilling played no role in the announcement shrinking Bears Ears.
“This is not about energy,” Zinke told reporters on Dec. 5. “There is no mine within Bears Ears.”