President Biden on Tuesday designated two new national monuments in Nevada and Texas.
Biden designated Nevada’s Avi Kwa Ame, also known as Spirit Mountain, and Texas’s Castner Range as monuments, protecting a total of nearly 514,000 acres of public lands from development.
Biden announced the proclamations during a conservation summit held at the Interior Department. He did not sign the proclamations on stage, but they were sent out by the White House ahead of his speech. Biden also said he’s issuing a memo to consider designating additional protections around a marine monument that’s southwest of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.
“When we conserve our country’s natural gifts, we’re not just protecting the livelihoods of people who depend on them … we’re protecting the heart and the soul of our national pride,” Biden said, adding that it’s also “telling our story that will be told for generations upon generations to come.”
Avi Kwa Ame is part of the creation story of many tribes and is sacred to indigenous groups including the Mojave, Chemehuevi, and some Southern Paiute people. Species including Joshua trees, desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and Gila monsters can be found there.
A fact sheet from the White House said there will still be access for activities including hunting, camping, hiking and using off-highway vehicles.
Castner Range, on Fort Bliss in the El Paso area, was a testing and training site for the Army during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The area, with both hills and desert plains, also contains archeological sites significant to Indigenous tribes “that inhabited the area since time immemorial.”
The Pacific marine monument protections would “encompass areas unaddressed by previous administrations so all areas of U.S. jurisdiction around the islands, atolls, and reef of the Pacific Remote Islands will be protected,” according to the White House.
The administration on Tuesday also unveiled an Ocean Climate Plan and announced a guidance aimed at promoting habitat connectedness in the decisions made by federal agencies.
The decisions come after the administration recently drew ire from environmentalists over the approval of the Willow Project, under which ConocoPhillips plans to extract oil from Alaska for 30 years.
Asked Monday whether the administration was sending mixed signals on conservation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the Willow decision was made due to legal constraints whereas the conservation summit is “about building on the president’s historic climate and conservation record.”
The monument announcements were met with Republican criticism.
“After taking flak from the far left on their Willow decision in Alaska last week, the Biden administration is clearly feeling the need to do damage control,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)said in a written statement. “This sweeping action limits access to public lands and waters without the proper input from Congress or local communities. Most concerningly, President Biden’s continued federal overreach raises concerns around access to fisheries and comes without prior notice or consultation.”
—Updated at 3:19 p.m.