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Coalition Sues to Stop Trump’s Dismemberment of Bears Ears National Monument

A broad coalition of Native American, conservation, and historic preservation organizations, outdoor industry, scientists, and outdoor recreationists sued the Trump Administration December 6, 2017, to strike down the President’s overreach of authority in revoking the Bears Ears National Monument.

The group says the President’s proclamation is contrary to law, ignores overwhelming public support for the original monument designation, and dishonors Native American heritage and culture. The coalition members are Patagonia Works, Utah Diné Bikéyah, Friends of Cedar Mesa, Archaeology Southwest, the Conservation Lands Foundation, Access Fund, the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The plaintiffs — Patagonia Works, Utah Diné Bikéyah, Friends of Cedar Mesa, Archaeology Southwest, Conservation Lands Foundation, Access Fund, the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation — filed the complaint in federal court in Washington, D.C.

Sixteen presidents have used the Antiquities Act to designate 157 national monuments since 1906 to preserve our unique and treasured places from destruction.  President Trump’s proclamation is the first time any president has attempted to abolish a monument established by a previous president and amounts to the largest elimination of protected areas in American history. By revoking national monument status for 85% of the area protected by the Bears Ears National Monument, President Trump has removed legal protections for many well-known and widely-revered historic, scientific, and cultural areas.

Image courtesy of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. More than 7,000 people gathered to protest the decision, on top of 2.8 million public comments opposing the reduction.

The President made the decision without visiting Bears Ears or meeting with tribal leaders. Despite his claim that his decision represents the will of the people, the decision only advances the interests of a few, at the expense of many. The Administration received over three million public comments this summer, and over 98 percent of those comments favored keeping the Bears Ears National Monument intact.

In addition, the Navajo Nation joined the Hopi Tribe, Zuni Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe in filing a Complaint against the Trump administration for its actions revoking and replacing the Bears Ears National Monument. The five Tribes formed a Coalition that worked to have the Monument designated in 2016. President Obama’s decision to designate the Monument came after years of extensive outreach and coordination with the five Coalition Tribes.

In their Complaint the Tribes argue the actions taken by President Trump are a violation of the Antiquities Act and are unconstitutional. Under the Constitution, Congress has exclusive authority to make decisions regarding property belonging to the United States. Through the Antiquities Act, Congress delegated to the President the limited authority to designate National Monuments and retained to itself the power to revoke or modify National Monuments. The Proclamation signed by President Trump today is so extreme that it revokes and replaces Bears Ears and thereby violates the Antiquities Act and seizes authority that the Constitution vests solely in Congress. The Tribes argue this overreach by the President should be declared unlawful and be enjoined to prevent its implementation.

The President’s actions came after months of tribal leaders expressing opposition to his proposal to shrink the Monument. During these months some 685,000 comments were submitted by the public in support of the Monument. Despite this outpouring of support, the President, without adequate tribal consultation, dismantled the Monument and lifted protections from 85 percent of the Bears Ears landscape.

The Complaint filed December 5 with the D.C. District Court alleges President Trump was without legal authority to take this action. The Navajo Nation has maintained its position to defend the entirety of the Monument, which it does today in the joint Complaint.

According to Josh Ewing, Executive Director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, “With more than 100,000 archaeological sites, 75% of which were erased from the National Monument by President Trump, the Bears Ears landscape is unquestionably the kind of place the Antiquities Act was meant to protect. Our organization has never before been involved with litigation. Yet this extreme and unprecedented effort by the President to erase National Monument protections for even the most uncontroversial and world-renowned areas, like Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch, leaves us no choice but to pursue our legal rights in the American system of justice.”

Rose Marcario, President and CEO of Patagonia, added: “Americans have overwhelmingly spoken out against the Trump Administration’s unprecedented attempt to shut down our national monuments. The Administration’s unlawful actions betray our shared responsibility to protect iconic places for future generations and represent the largest elimination of protected land in American history.  We’ve fought to protect these places since we were founded and now we’ll continue that fight in the courts.”

Founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, Patagonia is an outdoor company based in Ventura, California. A Certified B Corp, Patagonia’s mission is to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Contact: Corley Kenna, 202-320-3921, Corley.Kenna@Patagonia.com

Mary Benally, of Utah Diné Bikéyah says, “President Trump has literally dismembered our sacred Bears Ears monument that five Tribes have worked tirelessly for many years to protect in order to preserve our culture and way of life.  I heard yesterday someone say, ‘it is as if he took a whole person, slashed it, and left us with a couple of limbs,’ that is how I feel, too.” Utah Diné Bikéyah is a Native American-led organization, focused on Native American traditional and cultural knowledge that operates at the intersection between culture and conservation by promoting land protection. Contact: Gavin Noyes, 801-521-7398, Gavin@utahdinebikeyah.org

Friends of Cedar Mesa was founded in 2010 by a former BLM employee to provide stewardship that ensures the public lands of San Juan County, with all their natural and cultural resources, are respected and protected. Contact: Josh Ewing, 801-410-0773, josh@cedarmesafriends.org

Archaeology Southwest is a non-profit organization that undertakes preserving cultural landscapes, archaeological sites, artifact collections, and archives using a holistic, conservation-based approach to exploring the places of the past. Contact: William H. Doelle, 520-240-7546, wdoelle@archaeologysouthwest.org

The Conservation Lands Foundation is the only non-profit organization in the country dedicated solely to protecting, restoring and expanding the National Conservation Lands so they will endure from generation to generation.  The National Conservation Lands are 36 million acres of protected public lands, rivers and trails managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Contact: Brian Sybert, (406) 438-5185, bsybert@conservationlands.org

Access Fund is a non-profit organization that encourages and promotes environmental stewardship within the nation’s rock climbing community and also engages in specific land management issues that threaten to affect the environmental quality of the nation’s climbing areas. Contact: Brady Robinson, 303-408-6316, brady@accessfund.org

The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology is a diverse organization of scientists, students, artists, preparators, advocates, writers and scholars across the globe, who are dedicated to the study, discovery, interpretation and preservation of vertebrate fossils. Contact: P. David Polly, 812-272-2945, svp_president@vertpaleo.org

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private charitable, educational, non-profit corporation chartered by Congress in 1949 to protect and defend America’s historic resources, to further the historic preservation policy of the United States, and to facilitate public participation in the preservation of our nation’s heritage. Contact: Virgil McDill, 202-294-9187, vmcdill@savingplaces.org

Lead image courtesy of Patagonia by Andrew Burr

Aaron Bible