Biden establishes vast new national monument near Nevada-California border, honoring tribes
In the largest land conservation act of his presidency so far, President Biden on Tuesday established a new national monument in the Mojave Desert along California’s border with Nevada, protecting an area sacred to Native American tribes that is also home to big horn sheep, Joshua tree forests, desert tortoises, ancient petroglyphs and other unique features.
The 506,000-acre monument — roughly two-thirds the size of Yosemite National Park — is located on federally owned property overseen by the Bureau of Land Management in Clark County, Nevada, including most of the point in Nevada’s southern shape, about 30 miles south of Las Vegas.
“Our national wonders are literally the envy of the world. They have always been,” Biden said at a White House ceremony. “They always will be. They are central to our heritage as a people and central to our identity as a nation.”
The area is named the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, which in the Mojave language means “Spirit Mountain.”
More than 20 tribes, including the Hopi, Paiute and Mojave, along with tourism and environmental leaders and the Nevada Legislature, have pushed for the monument for years, as have the leaders of nearby towns like Searchlight.
The site, which is adjacent to Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, is central to the creation story of many of the tribes, who consider the lands sacred.
Hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, camping, hunting, driving on existing roads and other current uses are not affected by the new monument designation. But new development, including mining operations, solar farms, wind farms or oil and gas drilling will be prohibited.
“The president’s action today will safeguard these hundreds of thousands of acres in southern Nevada bearing great cultural, ecological, and economic significance to our state,” said the tribes in a statement under an organization known as the Honor Avi Kwa Ame coalition. “We are honored and grateful.”
Nevada’s governor, Republican Joe Lombardo, who was sworn in two months ago, criticized the move.
“Since I took office, the Biden White House has not consulted with my administration about any of the details of the proposed Avi Kwa Ame national monument which, given the size of the proposal, seems badly out of step,” said Lombardo, a former Clark County sheriff.
Lombardo’s predecessor, Democrat Steve Sisolak, supported the monument. Lombardo said it would harm the economy by limiting new mining and other development.
“This kind of ‘Washington Knows Best’ policy might win plaudits from unaccountable special interests,” Lombardo said. “But it’s going to cost our state jobs and economic opportunity.”
Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt to reduce looting and theft of Indian pottery and artifacts in New Mexico and other areas, presidents can establish national monuments by proclamation, without approval from Congress.
Nearly every president has used the law to establish monuments, which in many cases Congress has eventually upgraded to national parks.
Roosevelt used it to set aside the Grand Canyon, and also Pinnacles in San Benito County; Herbert Hoover used it to protect Arches in Utah and Death Valley in California; Bill Clinton set aside Sequoia National Monument and George W. Bush used it to protect expansive areas of the remote Pacific Ocean, including the world’s deepest location, the Marianas Trench.
Along those lines, Biden also on Tuesday issued an order requiring the Commerce Department to start the process to establish a new national marine sanctuary across the remote island areas southwest of Hawaii. The potential new sanctuary would be enormous — 497 million acres, an area five times the size of California — and would include the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument that Bush established in 2009 and other currently unprotected submerged lands, atolls, reefs and waters.
If the Biden administration does establish a new national marine sanctuary there, it would be among the largest protected ocean areas in the world, and industrial activities such as deep sea mining, and oil and gas drilling would almost certainly be banned.
“It’s a network of islands and reefs,” Biden said, “where the waters are filled with the most diverse marine life on the planet — sharks, rays, marlins, tunas, turtles, whales, ancient coral forests — many which are threatened and endangered now.”
On renewable energy, several companies have looked to federal lands around the new Nevada national monument site, including Avantus, in San Francisco, as a site for solar farms. The White House noted that it already has designated 9 million acres of federal lands outside the monument area that could be appropriate for solar and wind, and is considering more than 36 such projects there now.
Also Tuesday, Biden signed a proclamation establishing the Castner Range National Monument, in El Paso, Texas.
Located at Fort Bliss, the Castner Range served as a training site for the U.S. Army during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The Army closed Castner Range in 1966. The landscape, which will be cleaned of old munitions and other refuse, connects several existing parks and hosts significant cultural sites for the Apache, Pueblo, Hopi and Kiowa tribes.
Biden has set a goal of protecting 30% of America’s oceans and lands by 2030. Environmental groups cheered Tuesday’s moves.
“The President’s actions today show that he is listening to communities and tribal nations that have been calling for the protection of natural and cultural resources and for safe, equitable access to more public lands,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group in Denver. “But he still has a long way to go to reach the 30×30 goal.”