Activism

Patagonia Joins Native Tribes and Environmental Groups to Sue the Trump Administration Over Utah Land

Trump's massive land grab is the largest elimination of protected land in U.S. history.

"The Toadstools"
Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps / Flickr Creative Commons

The outdoor retailer Patagonia announced this week that it intends to join forces with a coalition of Native American tribes and environmental groups and file a lawsuit against the Trump administration. Like the environmental groups and tribes, Patagonia said it will sue Trump and members of his administration over their unprecedented decision to dismantle two million acres of public national monument land in Utah—Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

The move by Trump's administration is by far the largest elimination of protected public land in U.S. history. No president has ever attempted to abolish such an enormous region of public land before. Most presidents have added to public land protections, if anything.

The coalition of conservation groups that have already filed lawsuits includes the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and seven other groups as plaintiffs. A coalition of five Native American Indian tribes has also already filed suit against the president and members of his administration. All parties filing suits are arguing that the administration does not have the legal authority to shrink the land's National Monument designation or remove any protections.

The various court cases over the national monument land could take years to settle, and could be landmark cases that set a precedent for the future of land protections. 

“The President stole your land.” This message is plastered in big white font against a black backdrop on Patagonia's new website landing page.

Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia's CEO and founder, has called Trump's land grab illegal, and told CNN:

"It seems the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits. I think it's a shame that only 4% of American lands are national parks. Costa Rica's got 10%. Chile will now have way more parks than we have. We need more, not less. This government is evil and I'm not going to sit back and let evil win.… I'm going to sue him."

Valley of the Gods, Bears Ears, Utah. (Credit: Bureau of Land Managment/ Flickr CC)

A "Take Action Now" link below Patagonia's message takes readers to a petition and pages of information on what's at stake and the Trump administration’s ignominious move.

The land at stake is sacred to several Native American tribes, and prior to Patagonia's announcement, the five-tribe coalition joined forces to sue, on Monday, Dec. 4. The tribes are alleging that Trump's dismantling of protections for the monuments violates the U.S. Constitution and Antiquities Act of 1906. The Antiquities Act, signed by famous public lands-preserving president Theodore Roosevelt, gives the president authority to create national monuments to preserve significant natural, cultural or otherwise alluring federal lands for future use. The act was born out of concerns over the safety and preservation of Native American artifacts and ruins.

The Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments are not just sacred to Native Americans, but also precious to the millions of people who come from around the world to visit the gravity-defying rock formations and majestic desert-scapes.

Trump's move would make these ancient spaces vulnerable to the predations of mining, logging and oil extraction. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton used the Antiquities Act to prevent oil, gas and mining companies from reaping these pristine lands. Trump wants to give these extractive industries a green light.

Other outdoor brands, including REI, have banded together with Patagonia in the effort against the Trump administration’s massive land grab. Patagonia and REI have a long and storied history of standing up in the name of the environment and public lands. Patagonia criticized Trump when he backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and the company donates 1 percent of its annual sales to environmental activism (amounting to a $10 million donation in 2017).

But launching a lawsuit against a presidential administration is unprecedented for any brand.

REI states on its website:

“The nation’s outdoors have benefited from longstanding support on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Today’s decision hurts the people who love these places. Americans enjoy our public lands in every part of the country, irrespective of politics. Not only have hikers, cyclists, climbers and hunters enjoyed national monuments, but economies have been built around them through outfitters, guides and retailers. The $887 billion outdoor recreation economy employs over 7.6 million people in good, sustainable jobs.”

Devil's Garden, Escalante. (Credit: John Fowler / Flickr CC.)

Successful lawsuits against Trump's administration would make it clear that the Antiquities Act is strictly for giving land to the public, not stealing it back to give to the oil and mining industries to exploit.

You can read more about Trump's land grab and ways to take action on Patagonia's website.

April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor. 

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