Zinke’s Recommendation to Reduce Bears Ears National Monument Goes Against the Will of Most Americans

On June 10, 2017, Secretary of Interior Zinke issued a recommendation to President Trump to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument. Access Fund believes this recommendation is counter to the will of most Americans and the well-substantiated designation process for Bears Ears National Monument that included our engagement with a wide spectrum of stakeholders—including Native American Tribes. Furthermore, Access Fund believes President Trump does not have the legal authority to eliminate sections of Bears Ears National Monument.1

Indian Creek sits within Bears Ears National Monument. Photo courtesy of © Andrew Burr

For years, this exceptional landscape weathered impacts from resource extraction and irresponsible public use, especially the looting of Native American cultural sites. To end any further loss in this cherished area, President Obama declared the Bears Ears region of southeast Utah a National Monument, permanently protecting this incredible region and the world-class climbing at Indian Creek, Lockhart Basin, Arch/Texas Canyon, Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods, and dozens of other developed and yet-to-be-discovered climbing opportunities. Now, this permanent protection is threatened by President Trump’s Executive Order and Secretary Zinke’s recommendation.

President Trump’s April 26th Executive Order to review national monuments resulted in an estimated 700,000 public comments submitted to the Secretary of Interior—most in favor of protecting Bears Ears National Monument as designated (Secretary Zinke’s interim report incorrectly claims only 76,500 comments). Access Fund motivated about 5,500 climbers and 22 local climbing organizations to submit letters of support for the Utah national monument. Secretary Zinke’s recommendation ignores the will of Americans and supports a multipronged attack on America’s public lands.

“In the lead up to Obama’s National Monument proclamation, Access Fund spent hundreds of hours of targeted advocacy work in Utah and Washington, DC demonstrating how significant the climbing is in southeastern Utah,” said Access Fund Executive Director Brady Robinson. “This targeted advocacy resulted in Bears Ears being the first national monument proclamation to specifically acknowledge rock climbing as an appropriate and valued recreation activity,” Robinson said. “This was a huge win for the climbing community, as the Bears Ears region is home to a substantial amount of world-class climbing. “

If President Trump follows Secretary Zinke’s recommendation and reduces the size of Bears Ears National Monument, portions of this incredible landscape and its world-renowned climbing areas could be exposed to unacceptable risks from resource extraction and other forms of development. This action would also undermine the Antiquities Act, a valuable tool for protecting lands when Congress fails to act. Many iconic climbing areas—including Joshua Tree, Colorado Natinal Monument, Sequoia (Needles), and Devils Tower—have been protected by the Antiquities Act and would look very different today without their protected status. Secretary Zinke’s recommendation is a direct threat to the Antiquities Act and all national monuments.

Secretary Zinke’s interim report acknowledges that the region deserves advanced protections but states that a national monument is not the best fit. He recommends Congress to make appropriate conservation designations, but turning to Congress in the current political climate is a dead-end that will leave important sites unprotected indefinitely. For three years, Access Fund participated in the political process to protect this region through a legislative solution (i.e., Utah Public Lands Initiative Act). Unfortunately, the 114th Congress could not come to an agreement on a legislative approach before adjourning last year, and Access Fund put its support behind President Obama’s National Monument proclamation as the only realistic option for much needed, long-term protection for this incredible region of southeast Utah.

Access Fund remains committed to protecting Bears Ears National Monument, the Antiquities Act, and our public lands system. We hope the President will not act on Secretary Zinke’s recommendations. Access Fund will continue to monitor the situation and will respond as warranted. Stay tuned for updates.

1The Federal Land Management Protection Act of 1976 (“FLPMA”) affirmed that only Congress has the authority to modify national monuments. No reductions in monument size have occurred since the passage of FLPMA.

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