On Monday night, just hours after President Donald Trump announced that he would be reducing the size of two national monuments by some 2 million acres, Patagonia’s website went dark save for a simple message in bold white lettering.
“The President Stole Your Land,” the homepage of Patagonia.com read, adding, “In an illegal move, the president just reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.”
The website then offered visitors a chance to learn more, both about the president’s move to reduce the size of the two Utah monuments as well as Patagonia’s own commitment to maintaining federally protected public lands. Earlier this year, Patagonia ran its first-ever television advertisement in direct opposition to the administration’s then-rumored intention to shrink national monuments, spending some $700,000 on television and radio advertisements in Utah, Montana, and Nevada.
“Our business was built on having wild places,” Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, says in the ad. “Public lands have never been more threatened than right now, because you have a few self-serving politicians that want to sell them off and make money.”
The outdoor recreation industry, which sustains some 7.6 million jobs and generates $887 billion in consumer spending annually, has been especially critical of political efforts to shrink or rescind protections for public lands.
In February, a coalition of outdoor retailers, including Patagonia, North Face, and REI pulled out of the industry’s semi-annual trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah, in protest of the state leadership’s move to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument. REI, the North Face, and Patagonia all released statements critical of Trump’s monuments review, which ordered the Department of Interior to review all national monuments designated since 1996 and paved the way for the reductions seen on Monday. And REI launched a campaign encouraging customers to submit comments to the Interior Department in support of maintaining protection for national monuments; all told, the Interior Department received more than 2.5 million public comments, 98 percent of which supported either maintaining or expanding designations for national monuments.
On Monday, REI also dedicated a portion of its website in response to Trump’s order, featuring photos of Bears Ears and a statement about the company’s continuing pursuit of “bipartisan support to protect public lands and prevent death by a thousand cuts.”
But Patagonia went a step further than other outdoor retailers on Monday by announcing that it would join a lawsuit questioning the legality of Trump’s move to shrink the national monuments. Presidents are granted the ability to set aside federal land for protection as a national monument under the Antiquities Act, and the power is rarely used in reverse. The ability of a president to shrink or reduce national monuments through the Antiquities Act has never been challenged in court — until now.
“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,” Patagonia’s president and CEO Rose Marcario said in a statement. “We’ve fought to protect these places since we were founded and now we’ll continue that fight in the courts.”
Trump’s order was also met with lawsuits from environmental and conservation groups, as well as tribal groups. Five indigenous communities were the first to file a lawsuit on Monday, challenging Trump’s order to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent. Later in the day, a coalition of environmental and conservation groups filed a challenge to Trump’s decision to shrink the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half its original size.
Contrary to several statements made by Trump and others on Monday, the order does not revoke the federal government’s management of the land. Instead, it opens the land up for a variety of previously prohibited uses, from the use of motorized vehicles and the creation of roads to, potentially, the extraction of minerals and fossil fuels. In Bears Ears, deposits of both uranium and hydrocarbons have enticed industry for years.
The ensuing legal battle over Trump’s order is likely to shape the way that America’s public lands are managed for generations to come. If a court rules that only Congress has the authority to shrink national monuments, it could embolden conservation-minded presidents to set aside more land for federal protection. But if a court were to find that the president could both create and shrink national monuments, it could open up millions of acres of federally-protected land to industrial use.