Bears Ears Lawsuit: Frequently Asked Questions

Access Fund is taking a legal stand against President Trump's proclamation to drastically reduce Bears Ears National Monument. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions related to our legal stand. We intend this list to be a living document, so if you have a question that is not answered here, please add it to the comments below and we'll answer it for you.

  • Is Access Fund taking a political position? No. Access Fund is a non-partisan, 501(c)3 organization whose sole focus is protecting climbing access and the climbing environment. We have members and supporters across the political spectrum and have a long history of working with both Republicans and Democrats on issues important to climbers. We work collaboratively with the federal, state, and local government whenever we can, but sometimes it is necessary to take a stand. This is one of those times. While we disagree with the current administration on the issue of Bears Ears and national monuments, we share an interest and a responsibility to find common ground on the many issues we can agree on in support of our public lands. One of the great things about climbing is that it brings people closer to each other and the landscapes they love. No matter your personal politics or beliefs, we hope all climbers agree that this region is worthy of landscape level protection. We aim to be an organization that all climbers can be proud to support.
  • Why is the Access Fund suing to protect Bears Ears National Monument? Access Fund’s mission is to protect climbing access and the climbing environment. Bears Ears National Monument is home to world-class climbing areas, including the renowned Indian Creek. President Trump’s Dec 4th Proclamation (#9681) would reduce Bears Ears National Monument by 85%, and the impacts to climbing would be far-reaching:
    1. Nearly 40% of the climbing areas within Bears Ears would lose their enhanced national monument status, including Valley of the Gods, Harts Draw, Lockhart Basin, and a portion of the climbing at Indian Creek (including the classic crags Cliffs of Insanity and The Wall).
    2. Many sites would be opened up to oil and gas leasing, including areas under and abutting the world-class climbing at Indian Creek. The two fragmented and much smaller monument units that the Trump Administration is attempting to establish are explicitly drawn to allow oil and gas development opportunities (see map).
    3. Climbing will lose its acknowledged status as a valued and appropriate activity. Access Fund spent hundreds of hours of targeted advocacy to get “rock climbing” included in the Bears Ears National Monument proclamation as a valued and appropriate activity. This acknowledgement secured climbers a seat at the table and solid footing during decision-making processes that affect management of the national monument. No such acknowledgement exists in the Trump’s revised monument proclamation, meaning future climbing access is more uncertain than ever.
    4. The climbing experience will be compromised. Bears Ears offers a climbing experience unlike any other. Climbers deeply appreciate the experience of climbing in an undeveloped landscape that affords incredible opportunities to enjoy a unique cultural and historical story. This presidential proclamation attempts to dismantle the landscape-scale protections that preserve this incredibly unique region, rich in cultural and natural resources.
    5. A dangerous precedent will be set. This fight is about more than just protecting the incredible climbing at Bears Ears. Nearly 60% of our climbing areas are on federal public lands, and if this presidential proclamation stands, it threatens the very foundation of our public lands system. Bears Ears is a crucial battle in the greater fight for America’s public lands.
    6. Access Fund does not believe that President Trump has the authority to modify a National Monument. His proclamation violates the Antiquities Act and the US Constitution.
  • Climbing was allowed at Bears Ears before it was a national monument, so why is reducing the national monument a problem? President Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument in December 2016, and since then, access has been exactly the same as prior to the national monument designation. The original Bears Ears proclamation removed threats from industrial development, protecting access and the climbing environment. If President Trump’s proclamation stands, the future of the climbing environment is uncertain. This proclamation revoked the hard-won, explicit acknowledgment of rock climbing as a valued and appropriate activity, which earned climbers a seat at the table in management decisions that could affect climbing access. And, by reducing the size of the national monument, many climbing areas could be exposed to access and environmental risks associated with nearby oil and gas development.
  • Where can I find a map of Bears Ears? Access Fund, in collaboration with the Outdoor Alliance GIS Lab, has developed static and interactive maps. Click here for a static map (pdf) and here for an interactive online map.
  • How much climbing is in Bears Ears National Monument? The original 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument contains over 100 unique crags and towers that include over 1,000 climbing routes. President Trump’s proclamation (9681) removed national monument status from almost 40% of the crags and towers. The climbing at Bears Ears National Monument varies from popular and convenient splitter crack climbing to remote and wild desert funk. Indian Creek, the most popular climbing area at Bears Ears National Monument, is an international crack climbing destination that offers climbing routes of all difficulties. Lockhart Basin and Harts Draw, just north of Indian Creek, offer high quality rock in a more remote and secluded setting. To the south, Arch Canyon, Comb Ridge, and Valley of the Gods offer adventurous climbing routes on inspiring cliffs and towers located in other-worldly settings. There are also many undeveloped climbing routes within Bears Ears National Monument, offering hearty desert rats a lifetime of climbing adventures. This map allows you to zoom in and identify climbing areas within Bears Ears National Monument.
  • Who owns the land at Bears Ears? Did the National Monument take this land away from the state of Utah? No. All of the land designated as Bears Ears National Monument is federal public land, most of which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with a few parcels managed by the US Forest Service (USFS). This land is, and always has been federal public land, and has never been owned by the state of Utah. The state of Utah (SITLA) owns several inholdings within the boundary of the national monument, but those do not have national monument status. When Bears Ears National Monument was created in December 2016, the region received enhanced protections and landscape-scale management strategies, however the original BLM and USFS ownership did not change. A National Monument designation does not change the ownership of Bears Ears, just the legal status and management framework. The 1.1 million acres that the Trump Administration is trying to exclude from Bears Ears National Monument would, under this revised proclamation, lose its National Monument status, but it would still be federal land managed by BLM and USFS, respectively. However, without National Monument protection, much of it would be open to oil and gas leasing and mineral exploration.
  • How is Access Fund collaborating with and supporting Native American nations? Bears Ears National Monument was first and foremost designated to protect Native American sites and traditional values. The Inter-Tribal Coalition, a collective representing five Native American nations, submitted their national monument proposal to President Obama in October of 2015. The original Bears Ear National Monument proclamation celebrates the exceptional cultural resources and traditional values that are fundamental to the five Tribes. Although Access Fund’s primary mission is to protect climbing access and conserve climbing environments, we also support many of the Native American community’s interests and try to work collaboratively with individual Native American nations. The Native American and climbing communities share many of the same values and finding common ground is important to the Access Fund. Well before the designation of Bears Ears National Monument, we organized several meetings with Inter-Tribal Coalition representatives to discuss the Bears Ears region, and over time developed positive relationships. In fact, the Inter-Tribal Coalition submitted a letter to Secretary Jewell in October 2016 in support of the climbing community and climbing activities at Bears Ears. In addition, Utah Dine Bikeyah, a non-profit organization that supports healing of indigenous communities, is a co-plaintiff (alongside 6 other co-plaintiffs) on our lawsuit. Out of respect for Native American nations, we filed our lawsuit more than a day after they filed theirs to honor the importance of Bears Ears to our Native American friends. Access Fund strives to do more to honor Native American values and bridge the gap between our communities.
Credit Photo Courtesy of:
Abbi Hearne

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  • Is Access Fund against oil and gas development on public lands? No. The Access Fund believes that responsible oil and gas development is a legitimate use of America’s public lands, but it is not the only use. We support balanced energy development in the right places. For example, we supported the Moab Master Leasing Plan because it considered recreation and conservation values when determining appropriate locations for oil and gas development. Unfortunately, the current administration is not in favor of Master Leasing Plans and is rolling back review processes that allow all stakeholders to participate in land management planning. These initiatives are part of the current administration’s efforts to achieve energy dominance. At Bears Ears, energy companies have already expressed interest in developing the lands opened up through President Trump’s monument reduction. Our map illustrates this situation. There are also significant uranium deposits that will be exploited on some lands that this proclamation tries to exclude from the original Bears Ears National Monument. Unfettered industrial development has a significant impact on the climbing environment and climbing access.
  • Is Indian Creek still protected in the new boundaries? If President Trump’s proclamation stands, much of the Indian Creek climbing area would be contained within the reduced National Monument boundary, except for a few areas such as the ultra-classic Cliffs of Insanity and The Wall. However, rock climbing at Indian Creek will lose its acknowledged status as a valued and appropriate activity because the revised proclamation does not acknowledge “rock climbing”. Without this acknowledgement, the future of Indian Creek climbing management is highly uncertain, and climbers will not have a secure footing during decision-making processes that affect Indian Creek climbing resources. In addition, all of Indian Creek could be impacted by proposed oil and gas leases abutting the climbing area (see map).
  • Does this monument reduction benefit or harm motorized vehicle access? The original Bears Ears National Monument proclamation did not reduce motorized vehicle access from pre-monument designation levels. The Trump proclamation does nothing to advance off-road vehicle interests in the revised national monument, and like the original proclamation, it prescribes a transportation management plan for the monument that will determine future conditions for the off road community.

Obama proclamation (9558) transportation language:
For purposes of protecting and restoring the objects identified above, the Secretaries shall prepare a transportation plan that designates the roads and trails where motorized and non-motorized mechanized vehicle use will be allowed. Except for emergency or authorized administrative purposes, motorized and non-motorized mechanized vehicle use shall be allowed only on roads and trails designated for such use, consistent with the care and management of such objects. Any additional roads or trails designated for motorized vehicle use must be for the purposes of public safety or protection of such objects.

Trump proclamation (9681) transportation language:
Proclamation 9558 is hereby revised to clarify that, pending preparation of the transportation plan required by paragraph 34 thereof, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture may allow motorized and non-mechanized vehicle use on roads and trails designated for such use immediately before the issuance of Proclamation 9558 and maintain roads and trails for such use.

  • What is the Antiquities Act of 1906 and how does it relate to Bears Ears? The Antiquities Act is the law that gives a sitting president the authority to proclaim a National Monument in order to protect highly valued public lands (already owned or managed by the government) when Congress is gridlocked and unwilling or unable to offer the necessary protections. President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to declare Bears Ears National Monument before leaving office in 2016.

The Antiquities Act states:
The President may, in the President’s discretion, declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments.

  • If a President can proclaim a National Monument, why can’t a President modify or revoke a National Monument? The Antiquities Act of 1906 provides a “one-way” authority for the President to declare, by proclamation, areas of federal land as national monuments. Once a President has used the Antiquities Act to create a national monument and protect objects of historic or scientific interest, only Congress can undo that protection. Congress has clear authority under the Property Clause of the United States Constitution to abolish, diminish, or otherwise change the monument. This “one-way” presidential authority prevents federally protected national monument lands from fluctuating wildly over the years, subject to the political motivations of the current president.
  • Haven’t presidents reduced monument boundaries in the past? No president has ever abolished or revoked a national monument proclamation. However, prior to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), there have been limited instances in which presidents have reduced the acreage of national monuments. None of these instances were ever tested in the courts. No president has modified a national monument since Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, which explicitly barred the executive branch from modifying or revoking any national monuments under the Antiquities Act. This “one-way” presidential authority prevents federally protected national monument lands from fluctuating wildly over the years, subject to the political motivations of the current president.

Excerpt from HR 13777; Reported by 94th Congress
[The bill] would also specifically reserve to the Congress the authority to modify and revoke withdrawals for national monuments created under the Antiquities Act .... These provisions will insure that the integrity of the great national resource management systems will remain under the control of the Congress.

  • Is there a bill being pushed through Congress that seeks to change the Antiquities Act? Yes. There is a bill moving through congress right now, HR 3990, that seeks to give the president the authority to reduce an existing national monument without an act of Congress; it would also prohibit landscape-scale protections for sensitive landscapes and exceptional natural features like Bears Ears; and it would make it more difficult to invoke the Antiquities Act. This bill has not yet been scheduled for a House of Representatives floor vote, and there is still time to write your representatives and tell them to oppose the bill.
  • Are National Monuments good for climbing? Some of the most iconic climbing areas in America are in National Monuments or were first designated National Monuments and later designated as National Parks. It is difficult to imagine the American climbing scene minus National Monuments. Teddy Roosevelt established Devils Tower in 1906, and since then, several iconic climbing areas such as Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Needles (Giant Sequoia), Pinnacles, Joshua Tree, and Gates of the Arctic have been protected as presidential National Monuments. National Monuments can protect climbing access and conserve the climbing environment, but they are designated to primarily protect and celebrate antiquities, cultural values, and exceptional objects of scientific interest. In the case of Bears Ears, Access Fund was able to get “rock climbing” acknowledged in the original National Monument proclamation, which gave climbing an added layer of legitimacy and protection under the National Monument designation. Access Fund generally prefers protecting climbing areas through legislation rather than Presidential executive orders. For example, at Bears Ears Access Fund worked with Congress, alongside many other stakeholders, for three years attempting to protect the Bears Ears region through a legislative solution—the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act. Unfortunately, the 114th Congress could not come to an agreement on a legislative approach before adjourning last year. After the legislative approach was exhausted, Access Fund recognized that a presidential National Monument proclamation was the only realistic option for much-needed, long-term protection for Bears Ears region of southeast Utah. National Monument designation is an important conservation tool that is appropriate when Congress experiences gridlock or lacks the impetus to conserve sensitive resources. That is why Theodore Roosevelt established the Antiquities Act.
  • Does Bears Ears National Monument pull critical funding from our National Parks? No. Bears Ears National Monument is managed primarily by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), with a small amount managed by the US Forest Service (USFS)not the National Park Service (NPS). Although both the BLM and NPS agencies are within the Department of Interior, each has its own independent budget. Expenses incurred by the BLM and the USFS do not affect the National Park Service budget. In addition, National Monuments designated through the Antiquities Act do not necessarily include Congressional appropriation of funds. The Trump administration has proposed large budget cuts to the BLM, NPS, and USFS while at the same time proposing privatized services and fee increases at certain National Parks. Access Fund does not agree with this strategy and believes the federal government should take care of its public lands and exceptional cultural, natural, and recreation resources.
  • Is a reduction in Bears Ears National Monument what most Utahans want? Many surveys indicate that the majority of Westerners and Utahans support Bears Ears National Monument as well as protected public lands. An independent research group indicates that 71% of Utah voters support Bears Ears National Monument. Among western states voters, 80% are in favor of keeping National Monument designations for future generations to enjoy. Bears Ears is also the first National Monument that was proposed and spearheaded by a collective of Native American Tribes. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing five tribes who are connected to the Bear Ears region, has filed a lawsuit to defend Bears Ears National Monument. Hunters, anglers and LDS Church leaders all support Bears Ears National Monument. Despite what some Utah politicians say, the majority of Utahans want Bears Ears National Monument returned to its original boundaries.
  • Does Bears Ears National Monument hinder or benefit economic growth in southwest Utah? There are many benefits of cultural and recreation tourism at Bears Ears National Monument that will far outlive the boom bust cycles of energy development. Outdoor recreation is a massive contributor to Utah’s economy and the majority of climbing, hiking, mountain biking and paddling is on federal public lands. Bears Ears National Monument is an incredible opportunity for San Juan County, Utah to benefit from recreation and cultural tourism. A recent study by an independent, non-partisan research group indicates that National Monuments benefit local economies by increasing personal and per-capita income and lowering unemployment.
  • Has Access Fund joined with other organizations in this legal fight? Yes. Access Fund filed a lawsuit alongside co-plaintiffs: Patagonia Works, Utah Diné Bikéyah, Friends of Cedar Mesa, Archaeology Southwest, the Conservation Lands Foundation, the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
  • How can I help? Here are a few ways you support the fight for public lands:
  • Where can I find the legal complaint? The filed complaint can be found here.
Credit Photo Courtesy of:
Abbi Hearne

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Help our public policy experts, scientists, and lawyers defend Bears Ears and our treasured public lands. Together we can stop this presidential proclamation from becoming a reality.