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Trump loses legal challenge to shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah

By
Nicholas Sakelaris

Oct. 1 (UPI) -- A federal judge sided with Utah native tribes who are fighting an attempt by the Trump administration to shrink the size of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Five American Indian tribes and several environmental, business and academic groups are suing the Trump administration to keep the original 1.35 million acres granted by President Barack Obama in 2016. The area is named after two buttes that resemble a bear's ears.

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The Trump administration issued a proclamation Dec. 4, 2017, cutting the size of the federally protected land down to 201,876 acres. The concern is that the Trump administration's plan would open the land up to development. That prompted three lawsuits, now combined into one, aiming to protect the archaeologically significant area from development. The Trump administration retaliated by trying to get the argument thrown out.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan rejected the administration's attempts to stop the lawsuits from proceeding.

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The next step will be a status hearing on Oct. 7 when they will file additional legal briefs and come up with "an expedited, coordinated schedule."

Tribes participating in the lawsuit include the Ute, Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni.

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Proponents of shrinking the national monument say there's too much federally protected land that can't be developed or drilled for oil and gas.

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The Indian tribes argue that Trump can't shrink a monument size that's already been designated by a former president.

The fight over Bears Ears coincides with another fight over the Grand Staircase-Esalante National Monument, another site in southern Utah. President Bill Clinton declared 1.9 million would be protected in 1996. Trump reduced it three times in 2017, prompting another combined lawsuit.

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