​Update on Legal Fight to Protect Bears Ears

In December of 2017, Access Fund took a stand to protect Bears Ears National Monument and the Antiquities Act, a cornerstone conservation law that is used by presidents to establish national monuments. The fight for Bears Ears will be a long one, measured in years, not months. Here’s the latest...

Because the illegal reduction of Bears Ears National Monument is a national issue that could affect all national monuments across the country, we filed our legal complaint in Washington DC district court. However, the Department of Justice is trying to have the case transferred to Utah, which could be beneficial to the defendants. District Judge Chutkan is currently evaluating whether the case should stay in Washington DC, and we are anxiously awaiting her decision and are ready to move forward with the litigation.

Our legal defense is only part of the battle to protect Bears Ears. The Trump administration is moving quickly to try and codify the illegal monument reduction by developing a management plan for the reduced monument units. While we would like to see this issue settled in court before participating in a Monument Management Plan process, we must engage in this premature planning process to ensure that the situation does not go from bad to worse. Access Fund and many climbers submitted comments during the scoping phase, and we are expecting a draft plan to be released later this summer. Access Fund will reach out to the climbing community after we have an opportunity to review the draft plan and assess how the proposed management framework will affect the future of Bears Ears, including Indian Creek and other climbing areas.

And finally, a mining company has submitted a request to the Bureau of Land Management to conduct mineral exploration activities on land left unprotected after President Trump’s monument reduction proclamation last year. While Secretary of Interior Zinke and the lawmakers who supported the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument claimed that the reduction was not primarily intended to open lands to mining, there are reports that indicate that oil and uranium were in fact the main reasons for the reduction. Now, less than a year later, we are witnessing the first attempt to explore the lands for valuable minerals. And there is now a report that DOI officials deliberately dismissed information supporting the benefits of National Monuments, including increased tourism revenue. Climbing and outdoor recreation are one the area's main types of outdoor tourism.

Access Fund is not opposed to responsible energy development that considers public input and balances climbing interests and all values of public lands. The current energy initiatives proposed for the Bears Ears region are not responsible, and Access Fund contends that any action that could potentially harm the Bears Ears landscape is currently inappropropriate and premature because of the ongoing litigation regarding the legality of the national monument reduction. Access Fund and the other plaintiffs have asked that the Department of Interior to provide due notice before any activities are conducted that could harm lands excluded from the original Bears Ears National Monument.

We'll keep you updated as things unfold.

Photo courtesy of © Andrew Burr

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