Access Fund Wraps Up Arguments in Bears Ears Lawsuit, Awaits Decision

After more than two years of litigation, Access Fund has finished the first round of arguments in its lawsuit to defend the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah, a sacred landscape to Native Americans and home to world-renowned rock climbing. A critical decision could be issued by the federal district court in Washington, D.C., at any time.

Bears Ears National Monument | Ute (Nuu-agha-tuvu-pu) and Pueblo Territories | © Tara Kerzhner

President Trump’s December 2017 executive order reducing the monument by 85%, to open it to energy development, threatens nearly 40% of climbing areas within the original boundaries. Access Fund, along with several Native American tribes and conservation groups, sued the Trump Administration to defend Bears Ears National Monument from this attack.

Throughout this lengthy legal battle, Access Fund has asserted that President Trump does not have the authority under the Antiquities Act and the Property Clause of the United States Constitution to reduce national monuments. That power is reserved by Congress.

“The court’s decision on Bears Ears is a pivotal moment in the greater fight for public lands,” says Access Fund Executive Director Chris Winter. “We’re gaining momentum, and Access Fund and the climbing community are proud to support Native American tribes in their work to protect this incredible landscape.”

The Antiquities Act has protected many iconic climbing areas—including Joshua Tree (now a national park), Grand Teton (now a national park), and Devils Tower (a national monument)—and the climbing experience in these areas would look very different today without their protected status. The Antiquities Act gives a president the authority to proclaim a national monument, but it does not give a president the authority to revoke or modify one. Only Congress can take that step. Thus, national monuments enjoy a protected status that is largely insulated from political attacks by changing administrations.

If the court agrees on this point, Bears Ears could be restored.

On the other hand, if President Trump’s action is allowed to stand, shifting political winds and changing administrations could threaten national monuments across the country, severely undermining the Antiquities Act, threatening climbing areas, and eroding the very fabric of America’s public lands system.

Protestors gather at Utah capitol to push back against the reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

No matter which way this ruling goes, the case will likely end up in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Federal litigation can be a slow and time-consuming process, but Access Fund, along with the tribes and other partners who have joined in this fight, are committed to seeing this through to the end.

“The entire Bears Ears landscape deserves monument status and protections,” says Access Fund Policy Director Erik Murdock. “This unique landscape would not be the same without protected traditional values and sacred sites, an intact ecosystem, and well-managed recreation opportunities. Climbers value these intrinsic elements of the Bears Ears landscape, and Access Fund has fought hard to protect them.”

You can read more about Access Fund’s position on the Bears Ears reduction in detail here. We will keep you posted on any updates on the case.