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Access Fund: New Bears Ears Management Plan Fails Climbers

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Climbing at Indian Creek in Bears Ears National Monument | Ute (Nuu-agha-tuvu-pu) and Pueblo Territories.
Andrew Burr

On July 26, 2019 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its near-final management plan for the reduced Bears Ears National Monument, home to the​ ​world-class rock climbing​ ​at Indian Creek. This management plan, which only covers 15% of the original monument landscape, fails the climbing community, the environment, and Native American Tribes.

The BLM’s plan calls for the development of a cultural resource management plan within the next two years, but it postpones the development of a recreation management strategy to three years after that—putting recreation management more than five years out. This plan is a recipe for disaster, as it fails to protect cultural resources and traditional values, putting them in the path of irreparable damage. In order to protect the irreplaceable natural and cultural resources at Bears Ears, the BLM must prioritize recreation management in order to properly manage increasing visitation levels.

The BLM rushed forward with this management plan in an attempt to cement President Trump’s unlawful 2017 Executive Order that reduced the monument​ ​by 85%. Access Fund is a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit arguing that it was illegal for President Trump to reduce the national monument. Access Fund believes this issue should be settled in court before BLM creates a Monument Management Plan. Nonetheless, the organization has engaged in the BLM’s premature planning process to protect climbing and to ensure that the situation does not go from bad to worse.

Bears Ears National Monument is home to world-class rock climbing that attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year from across the globe. Nearly 40% of the climbing at Bears Ears was carved out of the monument by President Trump’s unlawful executive order—including Valley of the Gods and Lockhart Basin.

In addition to climbing, Bears Ears is also home to world-class hiking, mountain biking, boating, and motorized recreation. These recreation opportunities must be preserved, but they must also be carefully managed so they don’t impact other monument values, like the significant number of cultural and paleontological sites.

“BLM’s plan is premature and unlawful because it ignores 85% of the public lands included in the original proclamation,” says Chris Winter Executive Director at Access Fund. “For the remaining 15%, BLM has kicked the can down the road and put off critical recreation management decisions that are needed now to protect and uphold the values that led to the monument designation in the first place.

Access Fund is currently evaluating options for appealing BLM’s flawed plan to the Department of Interior in order to ensure appropriate management for the world-class climbing opportunities, as well as the significant cultural, scientific, and natural resources in this unique landscape. Review Access Fund, Friends of Indian Creek, and Salt Lake Climbers Alliance comments to the draft management plan.

About Access Fund

Access Fund has been leading public lands policy on behalf of the climbing community for nearly 30 years. Founded in 1991, Access Fund is the national advocacy organization that keeps climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment, supporting and representing millions of climbers nationwide in all forms of climbing: rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and bouldering. Six core programs support the mission on national and local levels: climbing policy and advocacy, stewardship and conservation, local support and mobilization, land acquisition and protection, risk management and landowner support, and education. For more information, visit