Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Nation/World

Biden to declare huge national monument in Nevada, honoring tribes

March 16, 2023 Updated Thu., March 16, 2023 at 8:54 p.m.

By Maxine Joselow Washington Post

President Biden will designate a sacred tribal site in southern Nevada as a national monument in the coming days, according to two people briefed on the decision, creating the largest protected area of his presidency yet.

Biden will sign a proclamation putting hundreds of thousands of acres around Spirit Mountain – known as Avi Kwa Ame in Mojave – off limits to development under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the two individuals said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public.

The move would rank as Biden’s most consequential act of land conservation, and it would fulfill a promise the president made to tribal leaders more than 100 days ago.

“When it comes to Spirit Mountain and surrounding ridges and canyons in southern Nevada, I’m committed to protecting this sacred place that is central to the creation story of so many tribes that are here today,” Biden said at the White House Tribal Nations Summit in November. “And I look forward to being able to visit Spirit Mountain and experience it with you as soon as I can.”

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The proclamation could put roughly 450,000 acres – spanning almost the entire triangle at the bottom of the Nevada map – off limits to mining and other kinds of development. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) introduced a bill last year that proposed protecting 443,671 acres around the site, which the Fort Mojave and 11 other tribes consider sacred.

The monument map, as it has been drawn by a tribal coalition, would prevent renewable energy projects from breaking ground there. During negotiations over the monument last year, some renewable energy advocates warned the site could undercut Biden’s ambitious goals for deploying more wind and solar power.

But officials with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management stressed that clean-energy firms would still be able to access electric transmission lines under any monument designation. BLM has already designated more than 9 million acres of its land in the state for potential large-scale solar development, and another 16.8 million acres for possible wind energy projects. Federal officials have designated more than three-quarters of the proposed monument area as either wilderness or “areas of critical environmental concern” as part of an effort to conserve critical desert tortoise habitat.

Since the November tribal summit, scheduling difficulties have prevented Biden from traveling to southern Nevada and signing the proclamation. The delay has frustrated environmental and Indigenous advocates who say the site merits immediate protection.

Last week, White House aides reached out to Nevada lawmakers about potentially scheduling the announcement during Biden’s trip to Las Vegas, according to two people familiar with the matter. But Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), a strong supporter of the national monument designation, said it would be difficult to attend the ceremony because the Senate was in session last week and she would need to miss votes.

White House aides never finalized plans for an announcement last week, despite reporting by Nevada newspapers suggesting they had done so. Instead, aides began exploring whether to hold a ceremony in Washington to better accommodate lawmakers’ schedules.

On Tuesday, the Interior Department will host another conservation summit with tribal leaders.

The summit will “highlight the Biden-Harris administration’s actions and historic investments to advance conservation, restoration, and stewardship efforts and access to nature in communities nationwide,” the Interior Department said in a news release.

In October, Biden traveled to Colorado to designate a World War II-era military site as his first national monument.

The Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument encompasses more than 53,800 acres that provide critical habitat for wildlife including elk, deer, lynxes and migratory songbirds.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.