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Access Fund Will Intervene in Utah’s Bears Ears Lawsuit

“The idea that a lawsuit attacking [Bears Ears National Monument] is going to do a better job protecting cultural resources is just absurd.”

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On Tuesday, November 29, Access Fund filed a motion to intervene in a Utah lawsuit that attacks President Biden’s restoration of Bears Ears National Monument.

In late August, the state of Utah—led by Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes and backed by a powerful coalition of the state’s conservative powerbrokers—sued the Biden Administration over its 2021 restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. Utah has argued that the size of the monuments, which together amount to some 3.2 million acres, contradicts the Antiquities Act of 1906 and constitutes “abusive federal overreach.” The attorney general also says that the protections afforded by monument status are, paradoxically, having a negative effect on both the environment and tribal access to important cultural sites, and that only by repealing the monument status and coming to a “congressional solution” can the land be properly protected.

Utah’s claims are belied by the fact that Access Fund’s chief allies in the fight to protect Bears Ears have been tribes and conservation groups. Indeed, in filing their motion on Tuesday, Access Fund followed the lead of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and the Pueblo of Zuni, who filed their own motion to intervene in the case on November 18. All of these motions will need to be approved by a judge in order for the parties to gain official standing in the lawsuit, which would give them a voice in the legal proceedings.

Help us help Access Fund and protect Bears Ears: Donate here.

Access Fund’s Executive Director, Chris Winter, is resolved to fight Utah’s lawsuit to the end. “Access Fund represents more than 8 million climbers nationwide,” he said in a press release, “and we’re ready to bring that representation all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if that’s what it takes to protect Bears Ears.”

In August, Climbing spoke with Winter about the newly announced lawsuit. In that conversation, Winter picked apart Utah’s cynical decision to frame their suit in the language of environmental and tribal protection and repeatedly noted that Access Fund’s position was that the tribes know best. “This has been an ongoing discussion for decades,” he said. “The tribes have been calling for the protection of this incredible cultural landscape. Utah has historically pushed back against permanent protections. The tribes have called for a monument, they’ve called for permanent legislative solutions, and [Access Fund is] just supporting what they want to see done. I think we should be skeptical about Utah calling for some other kind of protection.”

What else can climbers do? 

“I think we all have a responsibility to support [Bears Ears] through education and stewardship and by promoting low-impact visitor use,” Winter told Climbing. “And I also think there is a funding component here; we absolutely need to do what we can to advocate for more funding for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase. But the idea that a lawsuit attacking the monument is going to do a better job protecting cultural resources is just absurd. It’s not a credible position to take.” (Also: Donate!)

In a press release about the decision, Access Fund provided some valuable backstory:

Access Fund is no stranger to legal action in support of Bears Ears. Along with its partners, the organization filed a lawsuit just days after former President Trump’s December 2017 executive order to reduce the monument, arguing that the President’s order violated both the Antiquities Act and the United States Constitution. As a result of former President Trump’s 2017 executive order, a vast majority of Bears Ears lost landscape-level protections, and approximately 40% of the climbing areas in the original Bears Ears National Monument lost national monument status—including Valley of the Gods, Harts Draw, Lockhart Basin, and a portion of the climbing at Indian Creek.

In October of 2021, President Biden restored Bears Ears National Monument. Access Fund joined the historic White House celebration on behalf of the climbing community. Beyond just celebrating, Access Fund’s Climber Steward program—founded in 2021—works hard to educate climbers on low-impact practices and responsible recreation. And the organization has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in building sustainable trails and recreational infrastructure that protect natural and cultural resources.

Climbing and our parent company, Outside Inc., are currently engaged in a fund-raising drive for our non-profit partners, of which Access Fund is one. Help us support Access Fund by donating.