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Obama designates monuments in Utah and Nevada

Designated monuments are Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in southeastern Nevada.

January 12, 2017

5 Min Read

President Obama designated the Bear Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in southeastern Nevada in late December.

How much land do these designations cover?

The new monuments protect approximately 1.64 million acres of existing federal land in two western landscapes – 1.35 million acres in Utah and nearly 300,000 acres in Nevada. Both areas contain land sacred to Native American tribes, important cultural sites, and fragile wildlife habitat.

What activities are allowed with a designation?

The monument designations maintain currently authorized uses of the land that do not harm the resources protected by the monument, including tribal access and traditional collection of plants and firewood, off-highway vehicle recreation, hunting and fishing and authorized grazing. The monument designation also does not affect valid existing rights for oil, gas, and mining operations, military training operations, and utility corridors.

"Today's action builds on an extraordinary effort from tribes, local communities, and members of Congress to ensure that these treasures are protected for generations to come, so that tribes may continue to use and care for these lands, and all may have an opportunity to enjoy their beauty and learn from their rich cultural history," said U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

"Utahns of all creeds are rightfully proud of the spectacular Bears Ears landscape, treasuring the opportunity to recreate, hunt, ranch and engage in their traditional cultural and spiritual practices. Rather than closing off opportunities to continue those uses, today's announcement is a recognition that those activities can continue, and the natural and cultural resources the communities prize are worthy of permanent protection to be shared with all Americans," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

What's at Bears Ears National Monument?

The 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument protects one of the richest cultural landscapes in the United States, with thousands of archaeological sites and areas of spiritual significance. These lands are sacred to many Native American tribes today who use them for ceremonies, collecting medicinal and edible plants, and gathering materials for crafting baskets and footwear. The Presidential proclamation establishes a Bears Ears Commission, comprised of tribal representatives, to provide guidance and recommendations on management of the monument. 

"Because Tribes will help manage this land, it reaffirms President Obama's fundamental commitment to human rights and equity in voice," said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. "Furthermore, while the land will be protected, our local Utah-based tribal members will continue to have access to the land for gathering ceremonial herbs. The land has always been a place of sacredness and fortitude for our people. Now it will be preserved for all future generations."

What's next?

The proclamation directs the Secretary of the Interior to explore within 30 days a land exchange with Utah that would transfer Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration land within the Bears Ears boundary in exchange for Bureau of Land Management land outside of the boundary. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service (USFS) will jointly manage Bears Ears National Monument. In doing so, both agencies will jointly prepare a management plan developed with maximum public involvement, including tribal, local and state governments, permit holders, other stake-holders and other federal land management agencies in the local area, including the National Park Service. 

"The Bears Ears National Monument is an incredible resource for the people of Utah," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "The Forest Service is honored to work with the local communities and tribes to manage these lands for the public's enjoyment and preserving them for future generations."

A map of Bears Ears National Monument can be found here.

What's unique at Gold Butte National Monument?

The Gold Butte National Monument contains nearly 300,000 acres of remote and rugged desert landscape, where dramatically chiseled red sandstone, twisting canyons, and tree-clad mountains punctuate desolate stretches of the Mojave Desert. The brightly hued sandstone provides a stunning canvas for the area's famously beautiful rock art, and the desert provides critical habitat for the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise. Evidence of indigenous communities' remarkable ability to survive in arid conditions here abounds, from ancient rock shelters and hearth remains to agave roasting pits and projectile points.

Gold Butte remains culturally and spiritually important to the Southern Paiute people, particularly the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, who collect water from the mountain springs, gather traditional sources of paint, harvest pinyon pine nuts and other resources, and access ceremonial sites. The area is popular for outdoor recreation, and visitors to the monument can hike to rock art sites, drive the Gold Butte Backcountry Byway to the area's namesake mining ghost town, hunt desert bighorn sheep, or tour the area's peaks and canyons on horseback.

Livestock grazing has not been permitted in the Gold Butte area since 1998, in support of Clark County's Habitat Conservation Plan to conserve critical Mojave Desert tortoise habitat.

The Monument will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

"These monuments will preserve sacred lands and ancient treasures that hold deep meaning for us all, illuminating the history of some of the earliest civilizations on this continent," said Bureau of Land Management director Neil Kornze. "Local collaboration is key to the successful management of these incredible landscapes, and the BLM is committed to continuing and expanding our work with community partners."

A map of the Gold Butte National Monument can be found here.

Source: USDA 

What others are saying:

State Republican leaders in Utah claim the designation will close the area to new energy development and add another layer of federal control. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said he's planning a lawsuit. –

Utah ranchers worry that establishment of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada will cause them to lose access to land for ranching. –

Opinions in Utah are divided on monument designation. Some say it's an "abuse" of executive power, authorized by the 1906 Antiquities Act, and others saying the land must be protected. – The Salt Lake Tribune

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