LAS VEGAS (AP) — President Joe Biden told a gathering of tribal leaders in Washington on Wednesday that he intends to designate an area considered sacred by area Native Americans in southern Nevada as a new national monument.
“When it comes to Spirit Mountain and the surrounding ridges and canyons, I’m committed to protecting this sacred place that is central to the creation story of so many tribes that are here today,” Biden said during a speech at the White House National Tribal Nations Summit.
The site, to be designated Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, would encompass a rugged and dry triangular-shaped area roughly from the Colorado River — marking the Arizona state line — to California and the California Mojave National Preserve. The area is mostly undeveloped landscape dotted with Joshua trees and bighorn sheep migration routes.
The designation is not final, but the president’s announcement was hailed by Native American tribal representatives, members of Nevada’s congressional delegation and conservationists.
Spirit Mountain, northwest of Laughlin, is the tallest in the surrounding Newberry Mountains. It was called “Avi Kwa Ame” by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and listed in 1999 on the National Register of Historic Places as a place sacred to tribes.
The peak, at 5,642 feet (1,720 meters), is already within a 52-square-mile (135-square-kilometer) wilderness area overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.
A broad coalition of tribes and conservation groups has advocated for years to widen the protected area, which also includes Walking Box Ranch, a Spanish Colonial Revival house that once belonged to 1920s-era Hollywood actors Clara Bow and Rex Bell. That site also is on the national historic register.
A proposal by a Sweden-based company to build a wind energy farm in the area was slow-tracked last year by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
On Wednesday, Biden credited U.S. Rep. Dina Titus and Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, for pushing the proposal.
“Avi Kwa Ame’s story is one of perseverance and passion,” Titus said in a statement in which Timothy Williams, Fort Mojave Tribal chairman, called the site “a unique cultural landscape that is the center of creation for Mojave people.”
“Knowing our future generations will have the freedom to continue our cultural and religious practices as we have since time immemorial is both a model of inclusivity and a promise to honor the strength of Nevada’s diversity,” Williams said.
At 703 square miles (18,201 square kilometers), the new monument would compare in size to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Other national monuments in Nevada include Gold Butte, Basin and Range and Tule Springs.
Presidents have authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to create national monuments. Congress also can designate sites through legislation, and Titus introduced a measure in February to set aside the Avi Kwa Ame site.
U.S. agencies currently manage more than 130 national monuments nationwide. A political and court fight is ongoing over the size of two national monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Bears Ears, established by outgoing President Barack Obama in 2016, is about three times larger in area than Avi Kwa Ame.