Bears Ears Restored!

Access Fund is pleased to announce that President Joe Biden has restored protections to Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah. Bears Ears is a sacred landscape to Native American Tribes and home to world class rock climbing visited by climbers from around the world. Today, President Biden used his authority under the Antiquities Act to permanently protect Bears Ears National Monument.

Bears Ears National Monument, UT, Ancestral lands of Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain, Hopi and Zuni. Photo: James Q Martin

Biden’s proclamation effectively undoes President Trump’s 2017 order to reduce the monument by nearly 85% to open the area to mining and energy extraction. Access Fund took a legal stand against Trump’s reduction on day-one, and the outcome was awaiting a decision in Washington D.C. District Court; however, on his first day in office, President Biden signed an Executive Order to review the boundaries and conditions of Bears Ears National Monument.

For years, Access Fund has worked in close collaboration with the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, as well as other conservation groups in its strategy to defend Bears Ears National Monument. Access Fund is thrilled to celebrate this victory alongside the Native American and conservation communities.

“We are absolutely elated that President Biden stood up to protect Bears Ears National Monument and conserve this national treasure. This is a huge win for Indigenous people in the greater fight for America’s public lands,” said Chris Winter, Access Fund executive director, who has been invited to the White House for President Biden’s signing of the proclamation. “This proclamation not only protects climbing and the vast cultural and scientific resources at Bears Ears, but it also helps to uphold the integrity of the Antiquities Act and protects all national monuments around the country. It also recognizes the importance of outdoor recreation in these places.

“Together, climbers and Native American tribes advocated for Bears Ears National Monument, and we are thrilled that President Biden has corrected course on the prior administration’s shortsighted and harmful decision to disrespect the traditional values and origin stories of multiple tribes,” said Aaron Mike, Access Fund native lands coordinator.

Access Fund filed a lawsuit just days after President Trump’s December 2017 executive order to reduce the monument, arguing that the President’s order violated both the Antiquities Act and the United States Constitution. As a result of President Trump’s 2017 executive order, a vast majority of Bears Ears lost landscape-level protections, and approximately 40% of the climbing areas in the original Bears Ears National Monument lost national monument status—including Valley of the Gods, Harts Draw, Lockhart Basin, and a portion of the climbing at Indian Creek. President Biden’s proclamation today has restored those protections.

“Climbers deeply appreciate the experience of climbing in an undeveloped landscape that offers incredible opportunities to enjoy a unique cultural and historical story,” said Erik Murdock, Access Fund Vice-President of Policy and Government Affairs. In a recent survey of climbers by Access Fund, 95% of respondents were in favor of restoring and even expanding the national monument. “Defending Bears Ears National Monument is about more than just protecting the climbing sites themselves, but also protecting this unique experience for generations to come.”

Winter added, “On behalf of Access Fund, we would like to thank the many thousands of climbers from around the country who supported the legal battle over Bears Ears for three long years. Their advocacy helped elevate the importance of protecting the integrity of this National Monument as a top public lands priority for the Biden Administration. We would also like to thank all the volunteers and partners who continue to steward the Bears Ears landscape to ensure a respectful and sustainable recreation experience.”

From 2016 to 2020, public lands have faced unprecedented threats, and the fight does not end here. Access Fund—along with the Tribes and other partners who have worked so hard for so long—are committed to ensuring that Bears Ears National Monument and all public lands remain protected and respected in perpetuity.