New national monuments named in two Western states

President Obama designated two national monuments on lands in Utah and Nevada.

The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah will cover about 540,000 hectares in the Four Corners region, the White House announced December 28. 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.

In Nevada, the 120,000-hectare Gold Butte National Monument outside Las Vegas will protect a scenic and ecologically fragile area that includes rock art, artifacts, rare fossils and recently discovered dinosaur tracks.

Art sketched into rock face (© AP Images)
Petroglyphs (rock carvings) in Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument (© AP Images)

The White House and conservationists said both sites were at risk of looting and vandalism.

“Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes,” Obama said in a statement.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye called it an exciting day for his tribe and people of all cultures. “We have always looked to Bears Ears as a place of refuge,” Begaye said. “The rocks, 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 place an elected official on a first-of-its-kind tribal commission for the Bears Ears monument. It will provide federal land managers with expertise about the area, officials said.

Dwelling carved into rock cliff (© AP Images)
An ancient cliff dwelling in Bears Ears National Monument known as the “Moonhouse” (© AP Images)

At the Gold Butte site, Native American rock art and artifacts are scattered amid rugged mountains, sandstone formations and Joshua tree forests. Pioneers used the area for cattle ranching and mining, while campers and all-terrain vehicle riders enjoy it today. It’s named for an early 1900s mining town.

Obama’s creation and expansion of monuments over the course of his eight years in office covers more area than any other president.