Barack Obama designates two national monuments in west despite opponent

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 have 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 cover 1.35 m acres in the Four Corners region, the White House told. 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 blow for nation Republican leaders and many rural residents who dread it will add another layer of unnecessary federal control and close the area to energy development and recreation, a common refrain in the battle over use 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 standoff against government agents in 2014. It includes rock art, artifacts, rare fossils and recently discovered ways.

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 landscapes, 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 covers more acreage than any other chairman.

But Trumps upcoming presidency has tempered the exhilaration for tribal leaders and conservationists, with some worrying 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 presidents have the power to undo monuments, though it has not been did before.

Bears Ears national monument in Utah. Photograph: 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 timber for medicinal and spiritual purposes, 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 appeared to Bears Ears as a place of refuge, as a place where we can collect herbs and medicinal plants, and a place of prayer and sacredness, Begaye told. The boulders, the winds, the land they are living, breathing 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 directors 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, plateaus, towering boulder formations, rivers and canyons across wide expanses covered by sagebrush and juniper trees.

Opponents agree the area is a natural rich worth preserving but said the federal designation would create restrictions on oil and gas developing as well residents ability to camp, bike, hike and collect timber.

No new mining and oil and gas developing will be allowed within the monument borders, 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 up other areas of the state for growth.

To many residents in the small, predominantly Mormon town of Blanding that sits near the new monument, the proposal is a thinly veiled, repackaged move 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 area north-east of Lake Mead, but GOP members of the states congressional delegation have been vocal opponents.

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

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

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