Barack Obama designates two national monuments in west despite adversary

September 20, 2017

Designation of Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada mark last moves to protect environmentally sensitive areas in administrations final weeks

President Barack Obama designated two national monuments at sites in Utah and Nevada that had now become key flashpoints over utilize of public land in the west, marking the administrations latest move to protect environmentally sensitive areas in its final weeks.

The Bears Ears national monument in Utah will encompass 1.35 m acres in the Four Corners region, the White House said. In a victory for Native American tribes and conservationists, the designation protects land that is considered sacred and is home to an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.

Its a jolt for nation Republican leaders and many rural residents who dread it will add another layer of unnecessary federal control and close the region to energy development and recreation, a common refrain in the battle over utilize of the American wests vast open spaces.

In Nevada, a 300,000 -acre Gold Butte national monument outside Las Vegas would protect a scenic and ecologically fragile region near where rancher Cliven Bundy resulted an armed impasse against government agents in 2014. It includes rock art, artifacts, rare fossils and recently discovered roads.

The White House and conservationists said both sites were at risk of looting and vandalism.

Todays actions will help protect this culture legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic sceneries, Obama said in a statement.

His administration has rushed to safeguard vulnerable regions ahead of President-elect Donald Trumps inauguration. It has blocked new mining asserts outside Yellowstone national park and new petroleum drilling in the Arctic ocean.

Obamas creation and expansion of monuments encompasses more acreage than any other chairperson.

But Trumps upcoming presidency has tempered the exhilaration for tribal leaders and conservationists, with some fretting he could try to reversal or reduce some of Obamas expansive land protections.

Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, who opposes the Bears Ears monument, has suggested chairpeople have the power to undo monuments, though it has not been did before.

Bears Ears national monument in Utah. Photo: Francisco Kjolseth/ AP

A coalition of tribes pushed for the creation of Utahs eighth national monument, though they asked Obama to make it about 500,000 acres larger than the monument he named on Wednesday.

Tribal members visit the Bears Ears region to perform ceremonies, collect herbs and lumber for medicinal and spiritual intents, and perform healing rites.

The Navajo Nation president, Russell Begaye, called it an exciting day for his tribe and people of all cultures.

We have always looked to Bears Ears as a place of refuge, as a place where we can assemble herbs and medicinal plants, and a place of prayer and sacredness, Begaye said. The stones, the winds, the land they are living, breath things that deserve timely and lasting protection.

The Navajo Nation is one of five tribes that will get an elected official on a first-of-its-kind tribal committee for the Bears Ears monument. The panel will provide federal land administrators with tribal expertise and historical knowledge about the region, federal officials said.

Tucked between existing national park and the Navajo reservation, the proposed monument features stunning vistas at every turn, with a mix of cliffs, plateau, towering stone formations, rivers and valleys across broad fields covered by sagebrush and juniper trees.

Opponents agree the area is a natural rich worth preserving but said the federal designation is inducing restrictions on oil and gas growth as well residents they can continue to camp, motorcycle, hike and assemble lumber.

No new mining and oil and gas developing will be allowed within the monument binds, said Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Members of Utahs all-GOP congressional delegation had backed a plan to protect about 1.4 m acres at Bears Ears, while opening hours other areas of the country for growth.

To many residents in the smaller, predominantly Mormon town of Blanding that sits near the new monument, project proposals is a thinly veiled, repackaged pushing from environmental groups who recruited tribes after previous tries at the designation fizzled out.

In Nevada, retiring Democratic senator Harry Reid has pushed for protections at Gold Butte, a remote region north-east of Lake Mead, but GOP members of the states congressional delegation have been vocal opponents.

Bundy is one rancher who does not distinguish federal jurisdiction in the area. He was accused of illegally letting his cow to stray there after failing to pay more than $1.1 m in fees and penalties.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges in the 2014 impasse with US agents trying to round up his cow.

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