After the December 4th, 2017 announcement by President Donald Trump to reduce and modify the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, our climbing community responded forcefully and quickly to oppose the decision. Climbers joined Native American groups, conservation organizations, and many others to ensure that these treasured landscapes remain protected. President Trump’s unprecedented actions constituted the largest reversal of federal land protection in the nation's history.
A variety of lawsuits have been filed to halt the changes to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Two of these lawsuits were filed by environmental and conservation groups to oppose the reduction and modification of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996. The remaining three lawsuits are focused on preventing the reduction and modification of Bears Ears National Monument into two smaller units with different proclamation language. One of these lawsuits was filed by the five Native American tribes representing the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, and another was filed by an array of environmental and conservation groups, including our partners at the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. Our partners at the Access Fund have also filed, joining a lawsuit by Patagonia, Utah Dine Bikeyah, and others.
The AAC supports the Access Fund and other plaintiff organizations as they legally challenge the reduction and modification of both monuments, particularly Bears Ears, where the proclamation explicitly acknowledged the region’s outstanding recreational values, including “world class” rock climbing as a basis for designation. As the monument litigation proceeds, the AAC will submit an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to make clear our opposition of the reduction and modification of the monuments. We also oppose any action by the administration aimed at weakening the efficacy of Antiquities Act as a means to conserve mountain environments and to protect opportunities for climbing.
The AAC is actively engaged with appropriate congressional representatives and administration officials to respond to the broader legislative attacks on the national monuments that, if passed, could be even more detrimental to Utah’s desert and mountain environments and the interests of climbers than the December 4th proclamations. Presently, these threats are in the form of two bills introduced in the House of Representatives shortly after the December 4th proclamations: the Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act, and the Grand Staircase Escalante Enhancement Act. If passed, these bills would legislatively affirm the proclamations that reduced and modified Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, effectively ending any lawsuits over these reductions because it is generally acknowledged that Congress has full authority to reduce or eliminate national monuments.
The Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act proposes to designate the two new smaller monuments Shash Jaa and Indian Creek. Unlike the original proclamation of Bears Ears National Monument, which explicitly recognized the importance of preserving rock climbing opportunities within the area, this bill makes no reference to climbing and only minimal reference to recreation in general. By legislatively affirming a new, smaller monument containing parts of what climbers know as Indian Creek, the bill would ensure the removal of national monument protections from roughly 40% of the climbing areas within Bears Ears. Furthermore, the Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act, like the December 4th proclamation, ignores the will of millions of Americans who spoke out in favor of protecting the original Bears Ears National Monument. This legislation undoubtedly poses a greater, more permanent threat to this area than President Trump’s December 4th reduction and modification. Therefore, the AAC is working with partners and policy makers to oppose this bill.
A similar bill has been introduced in the House regarding the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Grand Staircase-Escalante Enhancement Act proposes to transform the three smaller units created by the December 4th proclamation into three national monuments, and create a national park and preserve within one of those units. Any land of the former Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument outside the boundaries of these new monuments and park, however, would be declared open to sale, disposal, mineral and geothermal leasing, and mining. These acts pose a significant threat to our public lands and to this incredible region in particular. Consequently, the AAC and many other conservation groups oppose this bill.
These legislative attacks would prevent the re-establishment of both the original Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, should any of the lawsuits against the President’s actions succeed. This is because the arguments of these lawsuits center on the limits of executive authority, and if they succeed, only Congress would then have the power to establish these new, smaller monuments. The AAC is working to oppose these bills and to push for new legislation to restore protections for these incredible areas and to ensure the integrity of our climbing landscapes.
The AAC is committed to working in collaboration with our partners to address critical public policy issues facing America’s mountain environments, the interests of climbers, and outdoor recreation. We advocate nationally for keeping public lands pristine, wild, and open to human-powered recreation. All of us at the AAC find a deep meaning in climbing, and we are committed to advocating for climbers and working to ensure our nation’s laws provide for thriving outdoor communities, sustained by healthy mountain environments and vibrant climbing landscapes for generations to come.
Your contributions and membership to the Club help us continue the fight for our national monuments and climbing areas. Stay tuned for more updates from your policy team.