President’s Action Follows Decades Long Campaigns by Members of Congress, Tribes, Local Conservationists to Protect Areas of Extraordinary Cultural Importance and Natural Beauty
WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today joined tribes, members of Congress, state and local officials, and local business and community leaders in applauding the President’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in southeastern Nevada. Representing the best of America’s natural wonders, today’s designations complete what tribes, members of Congress, state and local officials, and local business and community leaders have sought for decades, but Congress failed to take action.
The new monuments protect approximately 1.64 million acres of existing federal land in two spectacular western landscapes – 1.35 million acres in Utah and nearly 300,000 acres in Nevada. Both areas contain land sacred to Native American tribes, important cultural sites, and fragile wildlife habitat. The monument designations maintain currently authorized uses of the land that do not harm the resources protected by the monument, including tribal access and traditional collection of plants and firewood, off-highway vehicle recreation, hunting and fishing and authorized grazing. The monument designation also does not affect valid existing rights for oil, gas, and mining operations, military training operations, and utility corridors.
“The rock art, ancient dwellings, and ceremonial sites concealed within these breathtaking landscapes help tell the story of people who have stewarded these lands for hundreds of generations,” said Secretary Jewell. “Today’s action builds on an extraordinary effort from tribes, local communities, and members of Congress to ensure that these treasures are protected for generations to come, so that tribes may continue to use and care for these lands, and all may have an opportunity to enjoy their beauty and learn from their rich cultural history.”
“Utahns of all creeds are rightfully proud of the spectacular Bears Ears landscape, treasuring the opportunity to recreate, hunt, ranch and engage in their traditional cultural and spiritual practices. Rather than closing off opportunities to continue those uses, today’s announcement is a recognition that those activities can continue, and the natural and cultural resources the communities prize are worthy of permanent protection to be shared with all Americans,” said Secretary Vilsack. “As we move forward with planning for monument implementation, the deep knowledge of the tribal community as well as ranchers, recreationists, archeologists and local community citizens will be heard.”
The 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument protects one of the richest cultural landscapes in the United States, with thousands of archaeological sites and areas of spiritual significance. These lands are sacred to many Native American tribes today who use them for ceremonies, collecting medicinal and edible plants, and gathering materials for crafting baskets and footwear. To ensure that management decisions affecting the monument reflect tribal expertise and traditional and historical knowledge, the Presidential proclamation establishes a Bears Ears Commission, comprised of tribal representatives, to provide guidance and recommendations on management of the monument.
Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz’s Utah Public Lands Initiative (H.R. 5780) proposed to conserve 1.39 million acres (1.28 million Federal acres) in mostly the same area as the Bears Ears National Monument by designating two new National Conservation Areas and a Wilderness, which would prohibit future mining and oil and gas activities in these areas. Their legislation also proposed a Tribal Commission to help inform management of the area and created additional opportunities for interested stakeholders to offer input, similar to what today’s action has established. These designations build on the framework developed by the Congressmen to both protect and allow for continued use and enjoyment of the area by residents and visitors.
“President Obama has been consistent in his commitment to work with Tribal governments, and this historic designation builds on his legacy,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. “We are particularly pleased that the designation affirms tribal sovereignty and provides a collaborative role for Tribes to work with the federal government in maintaining the land. Because Tribes will help manage this land, it reaffirms President Obama’s fundamental commitment to human rights and equity in voice. Furthermore, while the land will be protected, our local Utah-based tribal members will continue to have access to the land for gathering ceremonial herbs. The land has always been a place of sacredness and fortitude for our people. Now it will be preserved for all future generations."
Begaye further said, “We appreciate the great effort and everyone involved, including the Utah Congressional delegation who worked very hard on a parallel proposal. It is heartening to know our friends from the Utah delegation care deeply about conserving this irreplaceable land. We look forward to working with them and all our elected representatives in Congress on our constituents' shared priorities.”
Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial kivas, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record surrounded by a dramatic backdrop of deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and forested highlands and the monument’s namesake twin buttes. For these reasons, the Bears Ears area has been proposed for protection by members of Congress, Secretaries of the Interior, state and tribal leaders, and local conservationists for at least 80 years. Native American tribes whose ancestral lands include the Bears Ears area advocated for permanent protection, led by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition made up of the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Zuni Tribe. Numerous tribes with ties to the region, including the above tribes, have passed resolutions and sent letters in support of a national monument designation.
The area’s tradition of ranching, which dates back to the late 1800s, will continue. Grazing permits and leases will continue to be issued by the BLM and the USFS.
In July, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie, and other senior Administration officials visited Bears Ears along with staff from Governor Herbert’s office and Utah Congressional delegation staff, and attended a public meeting where the majority of an overflow crowd encouraged permanent protection for this iconic landscape. Input from individuals and groups who raised concerns at the meeting were also considered in the terms outlined in the proclamation. Other national monument supporters include elected officials in Utah, national and local conservation groups, archaeologists, and faith-based organizations. Recreationists strongly support the monument, which will protect the area’s world-class rock climbing, hunting, backpacking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and off-highway vehicle recreation – activities that will continue to be a source of economic growth for southeastern Utah.
The proclamation also directs the Secretary of the Interior to explore within 30 days a land exchange with the State of Utah, which would transfer Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration land within the Bears Ears boundary in exchange for Bureau of Land Management land outside of the boundary. The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS) will jointly manage Bears Ears National Monument. In doing so, both agencies will jointly prepare a management plan developed with maximum public involvement, including tribal, local and State governments, permit holders, other stakeholders and other federal land management agencies in the local area, including the National Park Service.
“The Bears Ears National Monument is an incredible resource for the people of Utah,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “The Forest Service is honored to work with the local communities and tribes to manage these lands for the public's enjoyment and preserving them for future generations.”
A map of Bears Ears National Monument can be found here.
A fact sheet on Bears Ears National Monument can be found here.
The Gold Butte National Monument protects nearly 300,000 acres of remote and rugged desert landscape, where dramatically chiseled red sandstone, twisting canyons, and tree-clad mountains punctuate desolate stretches of the Mojave Desert. The brightly hued sandstone provides a stunning canvas for the area’s famously beautiful rock art, and the desert provides critical habitat for the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise. Evidence of indigenous communities’ remarkable ability to survive in arid conditions here abounds, from ancient rock shelters and hearth remains to agave roasting pits and projectile points.
Today, Gold Butte remains culturally and spiritually important to the Southern Paiute people, particularly the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, who collect water from the mountain springs, gather traditional sources of paint, harvest pinyon pine nuts and other resources, and access ceremonial sites. The area is popular for outdoor recreation, and visitors to the monument can hike to rock art sites, drive the Gold Butte Backcountry Byway to the area’s namesake mining ghost town, hunt desert bighorn sheep, or tour the area’s peaks and canyons on horseback.
This presidential designation is the result of Senator Harry Reid’s strong leadership along with Representative Dina Titus, as well as support from the Moapa Band of Paiutes and Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. In 2015, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor and BLM Director Neil Kornze attended a public meeting hosted by Senator Reid and Representative Titus to hear from the public about protection and conservation of Gold Butte and other areas in southern Nevada. Supporters of protecting the area include local elected officials and governments, area businesses, hunters, anglers, recreationists, and local land trusts and conservation groups.
Livestock grazing has not been permitted in the Gold Butte area since 1998, in support of Clark County’s Habitat Conservation Plan to conserve critical Mojave Desert tortoise habitat.
The Monument will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Both the Gold Butte National Monument and the Bears Ears National Monument are comprised exclusively of existing federal lands, and their designations honor valid existing rights. The plans will be developed in an open process with maximum public involvement, building upon the provisions outlined in the proclamations. Both proclamations also establish a local advisory council made up of a diverse array of interested stakeholders including state and local governments, tribes, recreational users, local business owners, and private landowners.
“These monuments will preserve sacred lands and ancient treasures that hold deep meaning for us all, illuminating the history of some of the earliest civilizations on this continent,” said Bureau of Land Management director Neil Kornze. “Local collaboration is key to the successful management of these incredible landscapes, and the BLM is committed to continuing and expanding our work with community partners.”
The BLM and USFS staff will schedule informal open houses on Bears Ears National Monument in January to answer questions from permittees and other interested stakeholders, and as part of the formal management planning process will announce public sessions later this winter and spring. Details of these listening sessions, including dates and locations, will be shared with local newspapers and posted to the monuments’ websites. The BLM will also hold public meetings on Gold Butte National Monument. Planning for both monuments will be done with full public involvement, with special emphasis on understanding the ideas and concerns of the local communities.
The Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents starting with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and used to protect treasures such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients. Altogether, President Obama has protected more than 550 million acres of public lands and waters – more than any other President – and has preserved sites that help tell the story of significant people and extraordinary events in American history.
A map of the Gold Butte National Monument can be found here.
A fact sheet and Questions and Answers on Gold Butte National Monument can be found here.