San Juan County seeks to join Bears Ears case, says overturning Trump’s changes would hurt its economy

FILE - In this May 8, 2017, file photo, Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is viewed. A plan to name a Utah highway after President Donald Trump is getting a nod of approval from Utah lawmakers. Republican sponsor Rep. Mike Noel said Monday, March 5, 2018, he wants to recognize Trump's decision to shrink two national monuments that had been fiercely opposed by state leaders. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

Washington • San Juan County is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit over the dismantling of the Bears Ears National Monument, arguing that the county should be a party to the case because overturning President Donald Trump’s order to split the monument would hurt the region’s economy by tamping down mining, logging and grazing.

The county filed court papers Tuesday to join the case as a defendant and fight the lawsuits filed by environmental groups and tribes who contend Trump’s actions were illegal.

The county is enjoying the economic and cultural benefits of increased access to federally controlled land for productive uses such as mining, logging, and livestock grazing,” the county said in the filing. “Much of the land in San Juan County would have been closed to these and other uses had the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument set by the Obama administration remained in place.”

Tribes and environmental and advocacy groups filed five lawsuits on Dec. 4 after Trump flew to Utah to jettison the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments and create five smaller monuments. The suits were later consolidated into two cases, one for each original monument.

A federal judge in Washington is weighing motions by the Justice Department to transfer the lawsuits to a district court in Utah.

President Bill Clinton named the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument in 1996 and President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears as a monument in 2016.

San Juan County said in its court filing that Obama’s “eleventh-hour designation of Bears Ears significantly restricted” activities on the then-1.35 million-acre plot of land in southeastern Utah.

While President Trump’s timely intervention has thus far prevented the worst effects of monument designation from impacting San Juan County, the harms that would necessarily follow a victory for plaintiffs in this litigation are not difficult to predict,” the county said. “The area in and around Bears Ears is rich in oil, gas, coal, and uranium deposits.”

The filing on behalf of San Juan County was submitted by a lawyer for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a Colorado group that bills itself as a nonprofit devoted to “individual liberty, property rights, limited government and the free enterprise system.”