Bears Ears was a monumental assault on public access—including for the disabled
January 11, 2018
San Juan County, Utah; January 11, 2018: Utah resident Brandon Sulser loves the panoramic vistas and abundant wildlife of his state’s open spaces. He is an avid outdoorsman and conservationist. But as a quadriplegic, he can’t hike into the great outdoors; he needs to drive, using a vehicle fitted with special hand controls. So, when President Obama roped off a vast area of southeast Utah by creating the Bears Ears National Monument, Brandon was one of the many people shut out.
Now, Brandon is taking legal action to support President Trump’s downsizing of Bears Ears to allow greater public access while protecting areas of archaeological significance. Brandon is joined by several conservation and sportsmen organizations, including his employer, BigGame Forever, an association of thousands of stewards of the land who work to conserve wildlife and the environment so everyone can enjoy them. He is also joined by state Rep. Michael Noel, whose district includes the Bears Ears region, and by ranchers Sandy and Gail Johnson. The original monument included the Johnsons’ ranch and grazing allotment, but the downsized monument does not—freeing them from an onerous and unnecessary regulatory burden.
Represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation, they seek to intervene against challenges to the Bears Ears downscaling by, among others, Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear company.
“President Obama’s creation of the Bears Ears monument was a flagrant abuse of the Antiquities Act, because he roped off far more land than needed to protect archaeological artifacts in the region,” said PLF attorney Jeffrey McCoy. “We are fighting against such presidential misuses of the law, and for the authority of subsequent presidents—President Trump in this case—to correct them.
“Downsizing Bears Ears serves the public interest by allowing responsible public access and freeing local residents from unjustified federal control,” said McCoy.
“Patagonia pushes the idea that creating sprawling national monuments allows more people to experience the outdoors,” he continued. “As Brandon Sulser’s story shows, the reality is just the opposite. Patagonia is promoting exclusion, not inclusion, by advocating for vast areas where only backpackers and other potential Patagonia customers can go.”
“I have always had a deep love for Utah’s awe-inspiring public lands,” said Brandon. “For 18 years I enjoyed them by walking, but for the past 19 years, after an injury at the age of 18, I have visited them on wheels. Closing off roads, through a monument designation that is far larger than it needs to be, shuts me out, along with many others.
“I believe in multi-use equal access to public lands,” he said. “Equal access means government shouldn’t discriminate against anyone based on ability or age. Everyone should be free to enjoy our public lands, be inspired by them, and be able to learn, first-hand, why preserving and protecting them is so important.”
“Pacific Legal Foundation fights to ensure that environmental policy is balanced, responsible and legally sound,” said PLF President and CEO Steven D. Anderson. “When officials misuse the law—as President Obama did with his monument designations—the wrongs must be challenged and rectified. We look forward to vindicating these vital principles.”
The case is UTAH DINÉ BIKÉYAH v. Trump. More information can be found at pacificlegal.org/bearsears.
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Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 14 victories out of 16 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.