bears ears national monument

Southeast Utah is home to one of the most beautiful desert and canyon ecosystems in the world. An area of 1.3 million acres in San Juan County, known as “Bears Ears,”  encompasses more than 100,000 Native American cultural sites and incredible rock climbing-- Indian Creek, Lockhart Basin, Arch Canyon, Comb Ridge, and Valley of the Gods, for example.

Left unprotected, the Bears Ears region faces serious threats from grave-robbing, theft of artifacts, irresponsible off-road vehicle use, and resource extraction, putting the health and integrity of this landscape at risk. The American Alpine Club and numerous other advocacy organizations appealed to the Obama administration to support a national monument designation—for its spiritual and cultural value to Native American people and our society, for its capacity to offer fulfillment and personal growth, for its unparalleled recreational assets, and for its outstanding value as a world renowned rock climbing destination.

We believed that the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument was also the right decision for the region's economy. Outdoor recreation in Utah currently generates $737 million in state tax revenue and $3.9 billion in wages and salaries. We felt that a monument designation would greatly improve and sustain long-term economic growth throughout the region. 

In late 2016, after Congress failed to pass legislation to protect the area, President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears National Monument. The monument proclamation recognized the significant cultural and recreational values of Bears Ears and for the first time ever, explicitly recognized rock climbing as a valuable activity in the monument, a huge victory for climbers everywhere.

Unfortunately, opposition to the Bears Ears National Monument found reception in the Trump administration. President Trump’s April 2017 executive order directed the Department of Interior to review national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act since 1996 to determine whether they comply with the intent of the law. This review led to the possibly illegal reduction and modification of Bears Ears National Monument. The redrawn monument boundaries create two separate and smaller areas within the Bears Ears monument: Shash Jáa, including the Bears Ears buttes, and Indian Creek, including some, but not all, of of this iconic destination’s crags.

On February 2nd, 2018, a small provision in the proclamation to reduce Bears Ears went into effect that opened the lands outside the monument boundaries to new mining claims and energy development. This move threatens the roughly 40% of climbing areas and the Bears Ears landscape as a whole. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management has begun its management planning process for the new, smaller monuments. The AAC submitted comments on the planning process in January, urging the BLM to wait until the lawsuits over the monument reductions conclude before beginning the management planning process.

AAC has chosen to not sue the administration over the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument. Instead, with our partners at Outdoor Alliance, we are jointly filing an amicus brief to express our concerns with the reduction. An amicus brief is a legal document submitted by non-litigants with an interest in the issue and serves to advise the court as a third party. These briefs can have a significant impact on judicial decision-making. We’ll keep you updated as the case develops.