Biden promises protections for Spirit Mountain in Nevada
WASHINGTON — President Biden pledged Wednesday to preserve the Spirit Mountain region in southern Nevada, which contains some of the most biologically diverse and culturally significant land in the Mojave Desert.
“I am committed to protecting this sacred place that is central to the creation story of so many tribes here today,” Biden told a gathering of indigenous leaders at a summit of the Tribal Nations from the White House in Washington. “I’m grateful to so many of you who led the fight to protect him.”
“There’s so much more we’re going to do to protect precious tribal lands,” Biden said.
But the president stopped short of designating the federal territory as a national monument, something that native tribes, environmental groups, local and state leaders have sought for more than a decade. It would represent the largest national monument created by Mr. Biden, but it could also put some of Nevada’s most potentially productive land beyond the reach of wind and solar projects.
About 33,000 acres of the area, also known as Mojave Avi Kwa Ame, are already protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act. Proponents want to expand those protections to encompass up to 450,000 acres and create a national monument which would isolate the region from industrial activity.
Designation as a national monument would create a corridor connecting several protected areas, from the Mojave National Preserve and Castle Mountains National Monument in California to the Sloan Canyon and Lake Mead National Recreation Areas in Nevada and Arizona.
This would provide a migration route for desert bighorn sheep and mule deer and protect critical habitat for desert tortoises, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, spotted owls and Gila monsters that are native of the region. Twenty-eight different species of native grasses, some rare, also grow here, along with some of the oldest and largest Joshua trees in the United States.
Converting the area to a national monument could benefit hunters as well as animals and plants, Nevada Wildlife Federation executive director Russell Kuhlman said in a statement. He said the new protections would allow sports organizations to build and maintain systems to capture and store water for game that is “critical to their survival”.
The Biden administration’s environmental agenda
- Climate adaptation policy: The Ministry of the Interior gives money to Native American tribes to help them to relocate areas vulnerable to climate change, possibly create a model for other communities across the country.
- A fundamental change: Fueled in part by the billions in government grants from President Biden’s climate bill, a growing number of electric utilities have joined forces to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.
- Divided government: Democrats’ strong midterm performance in 2022 ensures that Mr. Biden’s climate bill will be fully implemented. But a Republican-controlled house will likely try to slow down certain elements.
Mr. Biden used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create a national monument in Camp Hale, Colorado, and to restore three monuments that had been severely reduced by President Donald J. Trump: Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante.
But on Wednesday, he made no direct promise to use the law to protect the landscape of southern Nevada.
Several environmental activists said they expected Mr Biden to announce the designation on Wednesday and were unsure why his speech fell through. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Creating a national monument in the area could spur renewable energy companies to expand into one of the nation’s best regions for wind and solar power, at a time Biden has vowed to accelerate the country’s transition to clean energy. .
The area includes a 5,600 foot peak north of Laughlin, Nevada, which is the ancestral home of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and is of major significance to other tribes in the area.
The Fort Mojave Tribe has worked for over 30 years to continuously protect the area. Representative Dina Titus, Democrat of Nevada, introduced a resolution in February to make Avi Kwa Ame a national monument.
“Avi Kwa Ame’s story is one of perseverance and passion,” Ms. Titus said in a statement, adding that she hoped to save “those sloping bajadas, scenic canyons and ancient cultural sites for future generations can benefit from it”.
Deb Haaland, the Home Secretary, and Tracy Stone-Manning, the director of the Office of Land Management, have traveled to the area this year to hold roundtables and community meetings about protecting the area.
“Avi Kwa Ame has deep spiritual and historical significance for the Native people who have ruled these lands since time immemorial,” Ms. Haaland, who is also the First Secretary of the Native American Cabinet, said in a statement. “I am thrilled that President Biden is committed to protecting this sacred place.”
A spokeswoman for Ms Titus said the MP expects Mr Biden to formally designate a national monument.
Currently there is no wind or solar development in the area of the proposed monument, according to a Home Office spokeswoman, who noted that much of the land was barred from energy development under a Federal Conservation Designation.
There is a pending application for a 700 megawatt solar project in part of the potentially designated land that has been identified as an exception to conservation designation, according to the Interior spokeswoman.
And a California-based solar company, Avantus, has sought access to some of the land that could be included in an expanded Spirit Mountain monument to use existing transmission lines and access roads from a closed coal-fired power plant in Laughlin.
The society maintains that its access to the land would not harm a future monument.
“Avantus supports the establishment of the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, an important step to protect Nevada’s culturally significant lands and honor the state’s many indigenous communities,” said Frank DeRosa, vice president of public affairs at Avantus. “A very small portion of federal lands, approximately 2,000 acres of the 450,000 acres proposed for the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, less than 0.5%, overlaps the boundary of the proposed monument at its southern end.”
Outside the boundaries of the proposed national monument, the federal government has identified 9 million acres of public land in Nevada for large-scale solar development and nearly 16.8 million acres of public land for potential wind development.