The costs (and lack of benefits) of designating a national monument

BY JEFFREY W. MCCOY, ATTORNEY

On December 4, 2017, President Trump reduced the size of the Bears Ears National Monument from over 1.35 million acres to around 200,000 acres. A few days later, Patagonia, a retail company that sells outdoor wear and took in over $200 million in revenue in 2017, sued the federal government. In their lawsuit Patagonia, and the environmental and other organizations that joined them, alleged that President Trump’s decision was illegal. Today, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a motion to intervene in that lawsuit on behalf of recreationists, ranchers, sportsmen and conservation organizations, and Utah state representative Michael Noel in defense of the reduction in order to ensure that the public lands remain accessible for everyone.

PLF Client Brandon Sulser

A monument designation results in a restriction of many uses on the public lands that become national monuments. For example, PLF client Brandon Sulser must use motorized vehicles to enjoy Utah’s outdoors, but that type of use would have been limited under the original monument designation. Although Patagonia and the other plaintiff groups claim to be fighting for increased recreational opportunities, they are only promoting certain types of recreation in Utah.

The original Monument designation would have also have harmed ranchers, like PLF Clients Sandy and Gail Johnson. The Johnsons have been grazing cattle on land in the Bears Ears area since 1978. Like Utah ranchers who were impacted by the establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, the Johnsons fear that the Bears Ears Monument would have put them out of business.

A monument designation severely restricts individual’s use of public lands, with little corresponding benefit. As President Trump’s Proclamation explains, a “host of laws” provides specific protection for archaeological, historic, cultural, paleontological, and plant and animal resources on the land at issue in the case. The downsizing of the Bears Ears National Monument represents a balanced approach, providing reliable protections while not needlessly restricting responsible use of the land.

Despite this, Patagonia and other Plaintiffs have filed a suit in D.C., alleging that President Trump’s decision to reduce the Bears Ears Monument is illegal and unconstitutional. But as readers of this blog know, the argument that a President cannot reduce a national monument is spurious. If a President has the authority to establish a monument, then a President has the authority to reverse that decision. In fact, seven Presidents prior to President Trump have reduced the size of a predecessor’s national monument.

Patagonia’s legal claims are wrong, and its lawsuit attempts to restore monument boundaries that would harm access to the public lands in Utah. That is why PLF has joined with Utahns to defend the reduction in the Bears Ears Monument.

Defending public lands access for all

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.

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.

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.

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation, America’s most powerful ally for justice, litigates in courts nationwide for limited government, property rights, individual liberty, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations.  PLF represents all clients free of charge.


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