The Wilderness Society et al. v. Trump et al. (Grand Staircase-Escalante)

Nicknamed “the Science Monument,” the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in southern Utah features spectacular multihued cliffs and canyon systems that showcase millennia of sedimentary rock formations. Scientists come from all over the world to study Grand Staircase–Escalante’s unique fossil-containing sites, which offer an unparalleled window into the Late Cretaceous period. President Clinton designated Grand Staircase–Escalante as a national monument in 1996, providing needed protection to its special geologic and historic treasures and its vividly beautiful landscapes.

Since its designation, research in the monument has flourished, yielding fossils of previously undiscovered dinosaur species and offering rare opportunities to study undisturbed desert ecosystems in situ. Yet the monument became a focus of the Trump administration’s anti-environmental agenda. On December 4, 2017, then-president Trump signed proclamations dismantling Grand Staircase–Escalante as well as the Bears Ears National Monument, also in Utah. Trump’s proclamation slashed Grand Staircase–Escalante by roughly half, leaving nearly a million acres of federal public land 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.

NRDC—together with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and a coalition of other environmental groups represented by Earthjustice—immediately filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. (We also filed a separate lawsuit over Bears Ears.) A coalition of paleontologists and other monument supporters filed a similar lawsuit, and the district court consolidated the two cases. As both lawsuits explain, former president Trump had neither the constitutional nor statutory authority to dismantle national monuments.

In January 2020, we moved for summary judgment. While we were awaiting the district court’s decision, Trump’s presidency ended, and President Biden—on his first day in office—issued an executive order initiating a review of Trump’s monument rollbacks. During the review period, the Biden administration requested—and the district court granted—a stay of the court proceedings. In the interim, the federal government is required to provide plaintiffs with timely notice before undertaking a range of potentially harmful developments within the excluded lands.

Finally, on October 8, 2021, President Biden issued a new proclamation restoring Grand Staircase–Escalante to the boundaries in place prior to Trump’s unlawful attempt to shrink the monument. The Biden administration repudiated Trump’s actions as “unprecedented,” observing that NRDC and our partners’ lawsuits “raised serious and fundamental questions as to whether a President has authority to reduce boundaries or core protections in a way that is tantamount to revocation of a monument.” President Biden restored Grand Staircase–Escalante, the White House explained, to uphold “the long-standing principle that America’s national parks, monuments, and other protected areas are to be protected for all time and for all people.”

Last Updated

October 08, 2021



Issue Areas