Bears Ears National Monument Litigation

Defending public lands access for all

Cases > Property Rights > Bears Ears National Monument Litigation
Case Status: Active: Motion to Dismiss filed October 1, 2018

In December 2016, under cover of the Antiquities Act, President Obama unilaterally created the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument. One year later, President Trump slashed the size of the monument by 85 percent—to around 200,000 acres, freeing up more than one million acres for public use. Outerwear retailer Patagonia, environmental groups, and others sued the federal government, saying the President’s decision was illegal. On behalf of recreationists, ranchers, sportsmen and conservation organizations, and Utah state representative Michael Noel, Pacific Legal Foundation is defending the monument’s reduction to ensure that public lands remain accessible to everyone.

Turning public land into a national monument may seem innocuous, but doing so can lead to unintended consequences that threaten property rights and personal liberties.

For example, PLF client Brandon Sulser must use motorized vehicles to enjoy Utah’s outdoors. But President Obama’s creation in 2016 of the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument would have severely limited Brandon’s access to the vast area. The original monument designation would have also have harmed ranchers, like PLF Clients Sandy and Gail Johnson who have been grazing cattle on land in the Bears Ears area since 1978. Like Utah ranchers impacted by the 1996 establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Johnsons feared that the Bears Ears Monument would have put them out of business.

On December 4, 2017, President Trump slashed the size of the monument by 85 percent—to around 200,000 acres, freeing up more than one million acres for public use. In response, outerwear retailer Patagonia, environmental groups, and others sued the federal government, saying the President’s decision was illegal.

Although Patagonia and the other plaintiff groups claim they’re fighting for more recreational opportunities, they are really just promoting certain types of recreation in Utah.

Many laws and regulations governing the use and protection of public lands are already on the books. And these protections remain in place after President Trump’s order. In fact, the president’s order to scale back the monument’s size is a balanced approach to environmental protection—providing some oversight while ensuring that a wide range of people can use and enjoy Utah’s public lands.

Pacific Legal Foundation is defending the monument’s reduction on behalf of recreationists, ranchers, sportsmen and conservation organizations, and Utah state representative Michael Noel, so that public lands remain accessible to everyone. Our clients know the personal and economic costs of a monument designation, and are fighting to ensure that the Bears Ears National Monument stays right-sized for everyone’s benefit.

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What’s at stake?

  • Brandon Sulser was diagnosed a quadriplegic when he was 18. He now relies on a motorized vehicle to enjoy Utah’s public lands. The original monument boundaries would have limited access for Brandon and others like him who wish to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Sandy and Gail Johnson are ranchers in Utah. The original monument boundaries would have covered their grazing allotment, threatening their 40 year old ranching business.
  • Several sportsmen organizations have conducted wildlife transplants and other conservation projects on the public lands in and around Bears Ears. The original monument designation would have severely impeded future efforts.

Case Timeline

Motion to Dismiss

October 01, 2018 Download

Reply Brief

January 31, 2018 Download

Case Attorneys

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