Utah will appeal Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments decision just days after lawsuit was dismissed

Utah officials want to roll back the national monument designations signed by President Joe Biden in 2021.

FILE - In this May 8, 2017, file photo, is Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. President Joe Biden said Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, he plans to review the Trump administration's downsizing of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments in southern Utah. Bears Ears National Monument is on lands considered sacred to Native Americans who joined environmental groups in suing when the boundaries were redrawn in 2017. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

Utah officials took little time to lick their wounds after losing a lawsuit Friday that sought to roll back the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

In a filing Monday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and other state and county officials filed a notice of appeal on the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Cox made it clear Friday that the state’s goal is to appeal the lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it must go through the Denver appeals court before potentially heading to Washington.

A large focus in Utah’s lawsuit over the two designations in southern Utah stems from the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allowed the federal government to protect “cultural and natural resources of historic or scientific interest on federal lands,” according to the National Park Service.

Utah officials argue President Biden overstepped the power outlined in the Antiquities Act when he signed the designations of the two national monuments in October 2021, which expanded the monuments to a combined 3.2 million acres after then-President Donald Trump’s move to significantly shrink the two monuments.

However, in the ruling Friday that dismissed the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer pointed out the Antiquities Act has been challenged multiple times in the past, including in 1920 after President Theodore Roosevelt’s designation of the Grand Canyon. All of those challenges — which sought to reduce presidential power and the size of national monuments — failed.

Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an environmental group that intervened in the state’s lawsuit, said in a statement that SUWA was, “disappointed but not surprised by Utah’s appeal.”

“The Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments are some of the nation’s most treasured public lands that contain irreplaceable cultural and fossil resources, as well as unique geology and biology,” Bloch said in the written statement. “It’s baffling that the State of Utah is working to undo the protections needed to safeguard these places. SUWA’s work will now move to the federal court of appeals where we’ll argue that the President acted well within his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish these monuments.”

News of the lawsuit being dismissed came just hours after Cox helped introduce President Joe Biden to a crowd at the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs health center. After arriving Wednesday afternoon, the president left Utah for Washington late Thursday afternoon.

After the VA event, Cox told reporters he and the president talked about a number of issues, including the designation of the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni — Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument, which he dedicated in Arizona before stopping in New Mexico and later arriving in Utah.

“This monument (designation in Arizona) is a great example,” Cox told reporters after Biden’s VA visit. “He’s not a bad guy because he designated a monument. I think he’s wrong. I think he’s very wrong.”

The Utah Attorney General’s Office issued a statement Monday saying Reyes wanted to waste no time in filing the appeal.

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

On Monday evening, Cox’s office declined to comment further on the case.