Meet the Nation’s Latest National Monuments
As part of its goal to protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and water by 2030, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced two new national monuments and asked the Secretary of Commerce to consider establishing a new National Marine Sanctuary in the U.S. waters around Pacific Remote Islands in the next 30 days.
The two new monuments are the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada–which is sacred to Indigenous communities and contains one of the largest forests of Joshua trees in the world–as well as the Castner Range National Monument in Texas on the site of a former military training and testing site. Together, they cover nearly 514,000 acres of public lands, the White House said.
“Both Avi Kwa Ame and Castner Range are worthy of being national monuments. They’re beautiful places, critical habitats for wildlife and important to their local communities,” Environment America Public Lands Campaign Director Ellen Montgomery said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “The president’s actions will protect Joshua trees and Gila monsters in Nevada and the western burrowing owl in Texas. This will mean more nature, scenery, wildlife and history for future generations to experience in both of these monuments.”
President Joe Biden was set to announce the new monuments and marine conservation effort at the White House Conservation in Action Summit Tuesday. The White House announcement ahead of the summit touted Biden’s conservation legacy, noting that he had protected more land and water during his first year than any president since John F. Kennedy and calling the 30 by 30 goal the “most ambitious land and water conservation agenda in American history.” However, the announcement comes a little more than a week after the President approved the controversial Willow oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, despite the opposition of Indigenous Alaskans, which has undermined his legacy on both the climate crisis and environmental protections. That doesn’t take away from the value of the new protected areas to the communities that championed them and the wildlife that calls them home, however. Here’s the rundown on the newest protected areas in the U.S.
Avi Kwa Ame
Avi Kwa Ame is home to a mountain of the same name, also called Spirit Mountain, which plays an important role in several Indigenous creation stories. The Mojave, Chemehuevi and some Southern Paiute people honor it as one of the most sacred places on Earth, while it is also important to the Cocopah, Halchidhoma, Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Kumeyaay, Maricopa, Pai Pai, Quechan, Yavapai and Zuni Tribes. In addition to the Gila monster, the desert landscape also shelters the desert bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.
“The President’s action today will safeguard hundreds of thousands of acres of cultural sites, desert habitats, and natural resources in southern Nevada, which bear great cultural, ecological, and economic significance to our state,” the group Honor Avi Kwa Ame said in a statement Tuesday. “Many of our coalition members have traveled to the nation’s capital to witness this historic designation today, as have members of the Tribal governments who have organized and spoken out for protection for Avi Kwa Ame for years prior. We look forward to President Biden making this designation official this afternoon, and want to once again thank him, his administration, the Interior Department, and Nevada’s congressional delegation. Together, we will honor Avi Kwa Ame today – from its rich Indigenous history, to its vast & diverse plant and wildlife, to the outdoor recreation opportunities created for local cities and towns in southern Nevada by a new gorgeous monument right in their backyard.”
The Castner Range National Monument also contains important sites for Tribal Nations including the Apache and Pueblo peoples and the Comanche Nation, Hopi Tribe, and Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma. Further, the monument will connect to Franklin Mountains State Park, which will give more space for wildlife like the American peregrine falcon, Golden eagle, mountain plover, Texas horned lizard, Black-tailed prairie dog and Baird’s swallow to roam. In addition to animal biodiversity, the high desert landscape also provides habitat for the Mexican poppy and its vibrant spring blooms. The range was used by the military for training through World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War before being closed in 1966. The monument will give the space new life.
“Once the area is sufficiently remediated to be safe for public access, Castner Range will offer unique opportunities for the El Paso community to experience, explore, and learn from nature,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is committed to expanding access to nature for underserved communities that have historically had less access to our public lands, like those bordering Castner Range.”
Pacific Remote Islands
In addition to designating the new monuments on land, Biden also said he would direct Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to evaluate the possibility of expanding the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument into a National Marine Sanctuary. The monument as it stands provides shelter for an abundance of marine life including green and hawksbill turtles, pearl oysters, giant clams, reef sharks, coconut crabs, groupers, humphead and Napoleon wrasses, bumphead parrotfish, dolphins and whales. Extending the protections would meet the U.S. goal of protecting 30 percent of its waters, the White House said.
“America’s natural heritage includes not just towering mountains and sweeping plains, but also vast oceans teeming with wildlife – from colorful coral reefs to giant whales,” Environment America Washington Legislative Office Executive Director Lisa Frank said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “We’re fortunate to have some of the most pristine ocean ecosystems around the Pacific Remote Islands, but as our oceans heat up, acidify and face threats from plastic pollution to overfishing and drilling, we need to do more to safeguard our seas. Today’s announcement is a great step toward expanding ocean protections in the tropical Pacific.”