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LAS VEGAS — President Joe Biden announced his support for a new, 450,000-acre national monument at the southern tip of Nevada Wednesday during the White House Tribal Nations Summit in Washington, D.C.
Spirit Mountain, or Avi Kwa Ame in Mojave, is part of a rocky, desert mountain range about 70 miles south of Las Vegas that, for the last two decades, was listed as a 33,000-acre wilderness area.
Though not yet official, the monument could expand to include nearly all of the southern triangle of Nevada, according to The Washington Post, which reported on the monument prior to Biden's announcement on Wednesday.
"When it comes to Spirit Mountain, and its 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 here today," Biden said to an excited crowd of tribal representatives.
The range is of vast cultural and spiritual significance for the Fort Mojave and the Bishop Paiute Tribes.
"There's a spiritual connection that makes us Mojave people," Tim Williams, chair of the Fort Mojave Tribal Council, told the Post. "If it's not protected, our generation will not have done our job."
The area is a "critical desert habitat," according to the Environment America Research and Policy Center, home to Joshua trees, desert tortoises and bighorn sheep. Protecting the area from development will also help connect other natural areas in California and Nevada that could help animal migration and habitats.
"Our desert ecosystems are particularly sensitive and need safeguards to preserve the biodiversity that depends on them," said Ellen Montgomery, the center's public lands campaign director, in a statement. "We urge the president to move swiftly and follow through on his promise by permanently protecting Avi Kwa Ame and its canyons, natural springs and Joshua trees from proposed industrial development that is incompatible with these sacred, ecologically rich lands."
The specifics of the monument, including investments in infrastructure and how the region's handful of tribal nations will be included in the management plan, are unclear.
This would be the second time Biden uses the Antiquities Act to create a new national monument, and on Wednesday he suggested that he could take more steps to conserve land as part of his administration's goal to protect 30% of the country's land and water by 2030.
My administration also continues to use all available authorities, including the Antiquities Act, to protect sacred tribal lands. ... There's so much more that we're going to do to protect treasured tribal lands.
–President Joe Biden
"My administration also continues to use all available authorities, including the Antiquities Act, to protect sacred tribal lands," he said. "... There's so much more that we're going to do to protect treasured tribal lands."
In October, Biden announced the creation of the Camp Hale-Contiental Divide National Monument in Colorado, a 53,000 acre expanse of forest in the Rocky Mountains.
Unlike his announcement Wednesday, which was met with raucous applause, Biden's designation in Colorado drew the ire of the Ute Indian Tribe, which is now headquartered in Utah but has ancestral lands in parts of Colorado where the monument was created.
In a statement, tribal leaders said they were not consulted over the designation and called the move "an unlawful act of genocide."
Biden also restored Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments after former President Donald Trump drastically reduced them. That decision is currently the subject of a lawsuit from Utah officials who say it was an abuse of the Antiquities Act.