Judge consolidates lawsuits over Bears Ears, Grand Staircase monument changes

FILE - In this undated file photo, the Upper Gulch section of the Escalante Canyons within Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument features sheer sandstone walls, broken occasionally by tributary canyons. Environmental groups gathered Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, to speak out against Republican Rep. Chris Stewart's legislative proposal that would create a modest national park at the recently downsized Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, while allowing coal mining and grazing within other areas. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)

Washington • A federal judge has consolidated into two cases the five lawsuits filed against President Donald Trump’s order to shrink two Utah national monuments. One case now will deal with the former Bears Ears monument and the other, the Grand Staircase-Escalante.

The five suits, filed days after Trump trimmed the monuments by 2 million acres, all essentially argue that the president doesn’t have the authority to change the boundaries of a monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Federal Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, ruled Tuesday that three cases dealing with the Bears Ears monument will be heard together and two others about Trump’s changes to Grand Staircase would be paired.

The Justice Department, which is defending Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and others named in the lawsuits, has sought to transfer the lawsuits to the Utah federal court instead of the District of Columbia venue where they were filed. The judge has not yet ruled on that motion.

Trump, in a visit to Salt Lake City in December, issued two orders to remove the monument designation from 1 million acres of the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase area, carving it into three separate designations. He reduced the Bears Ears monument, which Obama had named as he left office, to 200,000 acres from the original 1.3 million acres.

The lawsuits were filed by five tribal nations that had sought the Bears Ears designation as well as other environmental and scientific groups.