Bears Ears National Monument Litigation
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.