Why are Arizona Republicans helping Utah fight against Bears Ears?

Utah’s fellow Four Corners state is gearing up for a monument challenge of its own.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Bears Ears buttes in 2021. Top Arizona Republicans have submitted an amicus brief supporting Utah's lawsuit that seeks to reduce the acreage of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

Arizona’s top Republicans are setting the stage for their state to launch a legal battle similar to Utah’s on a recently designated national monument around the Grand Canyon.

Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen and Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma have penned an amicus brief — a document submitted by parties that are not involved in ongoing litigation but have a strong interest in its outcome — urging the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to hear Utah’s case against President Biden’s use of the Antiquities Act.

Utah’s lawsuit seeks to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, both located in southern Utah, by over 2 million acres. Such a reduction would return the boundaries of both monuments to what they were under the Trump administration.

Utah’s lawsuit specifically challenges the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to create national monuments. Utah leaders argue that when President Joe Biden restored Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments to their original acreage in 2021 — following former President Donald Trump’s reduction of the same monuments in 2017 — he overstepped his legal authority.

Today, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante span over 3.2 million acres.

In August, Biden designated nearly 1 million acres in northern Arizona as Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. The monument was created out of land already managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service and is considered sacred to the many Indigenous tribes that have called the greater Grand Canyon area home for thousands of years.

In their amicus brief to Utah’s lawsuit, Petersen and Toma attack the Antiquities Act. They compare Biden’s use of the legislation to laws used to designate broad swathes of forest for “royal” use in medieval England.

“According to President Biden, ‘objects’ in the Antiquities Act means whatever he wants it to mean — such as plants, animals, qualities and experiences, and geological features. It can even mean an entire landscape,” the brief reads. “The result: a bird, a blade of grass, a quiet spot with a bit of shade, and an interesting rock can all be national monuments. And if President Biden likes a particular view on federal land, he can now declare it a monument.”

That Arizona’s top Republicans submitted such a brief isn’t a surprise.

In September, Petersen called Biden’s designation of the monument a “dictator-style land grab” and promised that a legal battle would ensue.

“Using the guise of creating a ‘Grand Canyon’ national monument in a remote area that is not even connected to the Grand Canyon is completely disingenuous,” Petersen said in a statement. “This move has nothing to do with protecting the Grand Canyon. It has everything to do with fulfilling his tyrannic desires to block responsible mining and agriculture production in an effort [to] cater to the extremists who elected him into office. I look forward to fighting on behalf of Arizona in court.”

Earlier this year, a federal judge threw out Utah’s case, brought by Garfield County, Kane County and the State of Utah against President Biden and leaders of other federal land management agencies.

Utah leaders, including Gov. Spencer Cox, said that the case should “be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.” So, it didn’t take long for Utah to appeal that decision.

The governor and other state and county officials filed a notice of appeal on the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver days after it was dismissed.

“All along, the State of Utah has sought appropriate protections for the precious, unique area in the heart of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante regions. But the current monument designations are excessive by millions of acres,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement in August. “President Biden’s designations are far outside his authority. We eagerly anticipate explaining to the Tenth Circuit why the law and the facts are on our side.”

Republicans have sought to roll back the Antiquities Act for years. All past legal attacks on the legislation have failed.