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Obama Protects Two New National Monuments

Cedar Mesa, Bear Ears Buttes National Monument


President Obama has set aside another 1.65 million acres for public use and future vacations by declaring them National Monuments.

Federal land surrounding Bears Ears Buttes in southeastern Utah and Gold Butte northeast of Las Vegas are desert areas that include crucial Native American petroglyphs of archeological and historic importance going back as far as 5,000 years, as well as wildlife habitats for hiking and hunting.

The move protects the land from profiteering and ensures they will be maintained in public trust for future generations. 

The move has been hailed by members of Congress, the heads of the departments of Interior and Agriculture, and Native American groups, which consider some of the land sacred, but one Republican politician pounced on the move, calling it "a travesty."

“The Antiquities Act gives the authority to create monuments and does not give explicit authority to undo them,” said Christy Goldfuss, the managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, when asked about the designation by The New York Times. No president has unraveled his predecessor's designations since the Antiquities Act was enacted in 1906.

Bears Ears Buttes has been on the list for proposed National Monument protection since way back during the F.D.R. administration. This year, Obama set aside other pristine American areas for protection by National Monument designation, including Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine—qualifying it as one of Frommer's' choices for the Best Places to Go in 2017.

The White House proclamation for the desert lands singled out some of the species that will be protected by the designations:

"Raptors such as the golden eagle, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, northern harrier, northern goshawk, red-tailed hawk, ferruginous hawk, American kestrel, flammulated owl, and great horned owl hunt their prey on the mesa tops with deadly speed and accuracy. The largest contiguous critical habitat for the threatened Mexican spotted owl is on the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Other bird species found in the area include Merriam's turkey, Williamson's sapsucker, common nighthawk, white-throated swift, ash-throated flycatcher, violet-green swallow, cliff swallow, mourning dove, pinyon jay, sagebrush sparrow, canyon towhee, rock wren, sage thrasher, and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. As the skies darken in the evenings, visitors may catch a glimpse of some the area's at least 15 species of bats, including the big free-tailed bat, pallid bat, Townsend's big-eared bat, spotted bat, and silver-haired bat. Tinajas, rock depressions filled with rainwater, provide habitat for many specialized aquatic species, including pothole beetles and freshwater shrimp. Eucosma navajoensis, an endemic moth that has only been described near Valley of the Gods, is unique to this area."


Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management