Biden Designates Two National Monuments

Bighorn sheep petroglyph Bridge Canyon Wilderness within the new Avi Kwa Ame National Monument. Photo George Wuerthner 

Today President Biden used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to create two new national monuments. The larger of the two, Avi Kwa Ame, in southern Nevada, encompasses 506,814 acres, while the Castner Range near El Paso, Texas, covers approximately 7000 acres.

Together these national monuments are the President’s second and third Antiquities Act declarations.

Avi Kwa Ame is the tribal name for Spirit Mountain, a granite outcrop that rises to 5,963 feet. Photo George Wuerthner 

Avi Kwa Ame is the tribal name for 5,963 feet of Spirt Mountain. The highest peak in the new monument is 7,026 feet at the summit of the southern end of McCullough Mountain.

The Avi Kwa Ame monument is the more significant of the two designations, not only because of its size at a half million acres but also because it links several other large conservation tracts.

Avi Kwa Ame, located near Laughlin, Nevada, includes portions of Lake Mead National Recreation Area and adjacent BLM lands that border the Mojave National Preserve in California.

Joshua Tree in Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness, now part of the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Avi Kwa Ame NM includes several designated wilderness areas, including Spirt Mountain, Wee Thump Joshua Tree, Bridge Canyon, Ireteba Peaks, South McCullough, and Nellis Wash wilderness areas.

The area in blue is the new national monument. Yellow is Lake Mead NRA.

In addition, the western boundary of the new monument borders the Mojave National Preserve, the Castle Mountain National Monument, Mojave Trails National Monument, and the Dead Mountain Wilderness, all in California.

These protected landscapes are an excellent example of where the sum of the whole is greater than the individual designations. In addition, these specially designated federal lands represent millions of acres of the Mojave Desert now in conservation status.

Brittlebrush near the Colorado River within Lake Mead National Recreation Area but now part of the Ari Kwe Ame National Monument. Photo George Wuerthner

The dominant vegetation is typical Mojave plant communities that include blackbrush, Mojave yucca,buckhorn cholla, creosote bush, white bursage, banana yucca, bunch grass, matted cholla, and prickly pear cactus. At some higher elevations, there are juniper and shrub live oak.

Desert bighorn sheep. Photo George Wuerthner

The area sustains desert bighorn sheep, Arizona toads, desert tortoises, and Gila Monster, all sensitive species.

Other species within the new national monument include reptiles such as western chuckwalla, fence lizard, Great Basin gopher snake, leopard lizard, Southwestern speckled rattlesnake, large spotted leopard lizard, Great Basin whiptail, desert iguana, zebra-tailed lizard, yellow-backed spiny lizard, Great Basin collared lizard, Mojave patch-nosed snake, Mojave rattlesnake, desert banded gecko, Western long-nosed snake, Mojave shovel-nosed snake, red coachwhip.

Birds one can spot include spot-gilded flicker (known to occur in Nevada only in this location), northern flicker, ladder-backed woodpecker, black-throated sparrow, red-tailed hawk, crissal thrasher, golden eagle, loggerhead shrike, and cactus wren. Other wildlife roaming the new monument includes coyote, desert cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit, valley pocket gopher, and desert wood rat.

Petrogryph at Grapevine Canyon. Photo George Wuerthner 

The land within Avi Kwa Ame is part of the ancestral homeland of a number of tribal people, including the Southern Paiute, Mojave, and Chemehuevi. There are some significant petroglyph sites within the monument. The monument declaration provides for tribal co-management of the area.

No livestock grazing has occurred in the monument since 2006 and the new monument declaration prohibits any new grazing allotments.

The Castner Range is a former weapon testing site for the Department of Defense and an example of turning swords into plowshares. The Castner Range National Monument borders the 27,000-acre Franklin Mountains State Park, adding to their combined effectiveness in preserving biodiversity.

Yucca frames Spirit Mountain. Photo George Wuerthner 

Given the significant biological and ecological importance of the Avi Kwa Ava National Monument, establishing this protected landscape is a positive action by the President. But he must get moving and designate many more national monuments to save 30 percent of the United States by 2030.

Among the better candidates are the Sutton Mountain and Owyhee Canyonlands in Oregon, Gila Bend in Arizona, Range of Light in the California Sierra Nevada, Pryor Mountains-Bighorn Canyon in Montana, an expanded Craters of the Moon in Idaho, an expanded Great Basin National Park in Nevada, the Gila in New Mexico, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Bristol Bay and a significant portion of the Naval Petroleum Preserve in Alaska.

The most significant conservation achievement he could contemplate is expanding the protection of Yellowstone National Park by creating a national monument that would include much of the surrounding national forest and other public lands. A Greater Yellowstone National Monument would preserve the world’s most significant temperate ecosystem.



  1. John Carter Avatar
    John Carter

    Excellent overview, and a pleasure to read, George. A spark of light from the Biden Administration.

  2. Jannett Heckert Avatar
    Jannett Heckert

    I think it is important to preserve land by designation of a monument, a national park or conservation by private owners. Do we really want every inch of land developed. We need open space for our environment and ecosystems to survive. We need Herd Management Areas to become permanent places for our wild horses and burros. There is enough public land to reserve a space for them as well.

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      How about this? NO allotments!

      No livestock grazing has occurred in the monument since 2006 and the new monument declaration prohibits any new grazing allotments.

    2. Chris Zinda Avatar
      Chris Zinda

      The US preserves nothing. Not even Wilderness that contains the word in its enabling legislation.

      We conserve – a meaningless term.

      May the industrial wreckreation community rejoice!

  3. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
    Jeff Hoffman

    Protecting and restoring native ecosystems and native species is obviously of utmost importance. But if we don’t fix the roots of these problems, which physically overpopulation and overconsumption, protection and restoration will eventually fail. We have to address both the immediate and urgent problems and the root causes, but I don’t hear anything from the Rewilding folks about the root causes, which need to be dealt with on both personal and societal levels.

    1. Mari Knutson Avatar
      Mari Knutson

      I am a rewilder, and I am very aware of the root causes. I am definitely part of the problem, I had 4 kids, so I don’t point fingers. I humbly acknowledge my impact and do what I can to mitigate it, and also to reverse the damage of my pioneering ancestors. I work to help others restore their land, I restore my own, I act locally, think globally. Its all I can do. If I bemoaned overpopulation I would be a hypocrite. We all need to stop pointing fingers and each do what we can to mitigate for our individual impacts. Don’t expect the government to solve the problem because there is too much corruption involved in natural resource extraction.

      1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
        Jeff Hoffman

        I could not disagree more strongly. While I agree that we shouldn’t be hypocritical, that doesn’t at all mean that we should be silent about root causes. Overpopulation is the biggest, worst, and most important problem on the planet (overconsumption/harmful lifestyles is right up there with it), and we all need to raise that issue. We need both individual and big systemic changes, and without both we won’t fix any of these problems.

        David Brower had 4 kids if I remember correctly, but he later realized that human overpopulation was a huge problem and talked about it. Just because you had 4 kids doesn’t mean that you should ignore the problem.

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    It’s good news and I’ll take it!

    He restored the monuments that former President Obama had designated too – near and dear to my heart is the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts national monument.

    1. Linda Horn Avatar
      Linda Horn

      Ida, I’m originally from Massachusetts and spent much of my life on Cape Ann. I love the fishing and boating communities, but they haven’t always been the best stewards of the ocean. Relative to the size of the New England coastal fishery, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is a ‘postage stamp,’ but it’s a magnificent one which deserves a special place in our American collection.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Oh my gosh, what a small world. So did I!

        Yes, it is rather small compared to the amount that is supposedly going toward offshore wind, but it does sound like a magnificent place.

  5. Edward Loosli Avatar
    Edward Loosli

    Thanks again George, and especially to Pres. Biden who hopefully, is just getting his feet wet, in designating more new national monuments. I especially like your last paragraph:
    “The most significant conservation achievement he could contemplate is expanding the protection of Yellowstone National Park by creating a national monument that would include much of the surrounding national forest and other public lands. A Greater Yellowstone National Monument would preserve the world’s most significant temperate ecosystem.”

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      “The most significant conservation achievement he could contemplate is expanding the protection of Yellowstone National Park by creating a national monument that would include much of the surrounding national forest and other public lands. A Greater Yellowstone National Monument would preserve the world’s most significant temperate ecosystem.”

      Wouldn’t that be a dream come true. If only people could appreciate it, ‘the world’s most significant temperate ecosystem’.

      We need to make this happen!

      Thanks for keeping us updated, George.

  6. Rambling Dave Avatar
    Rambling Dave

    This is great and all, but if you read the fact sheet you’ll see this:

    “Outside of the national monument boundaries, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has identified more than 9 million acres of public lands within the State of Nevada that may be appropriate for solar development.”

    So, half a million acres set aside for conservation and nine million on the clean energy sacrificial altar. Hardly seems right.

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Well THAT sucks – would have hit the like button but this isnt likable!

    2. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      I know, I didn’t want to minimize any protection of lands and seas, but then when you remember that so much more is going under development, I guess I didn’t want to be negative about it.

      And which species we’ll let go, I hope not.

      1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
        Maggie Frazier

        It seems one step forward & so very many others back.
        I just wonder how people can ignore whats happening to our planet & other species & continue on as if it doesnt matter.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          It’s because modern humans are totally disconnected from the natural world and the life there. We’re so insulated from real life that people can’t see its suffering and death or that we’re causing it. Only those of us “radical” environmentalists care about and fight for the natural world and the life there, the rest just go about their daily business with nary a clue or concern about those things.

    3. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Bureau of Livestock and Mining at it again.

  7. River Nomad Avatar
    River Nomad

    Nice job of reporting and writing craftsmanship George!

    I appreciate the detail of your work, and with this piece especially, the encouragement of welcome news.

    Your recommendations for further protective designations reveals the wisdom of your insight.

    So much is wonderful, grand, and selfishly imperiled, in Owyhee country. I hope more protections happen there soon.

    Thanks, George!

    And thanks too, to all the thoughtful commenters.

  8. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    This is very important, no question about it. I love the petroglyph of the bighorn sheep.

  9. Patricia Randolph Avatar
    Patricia Randolph

    Per usual, the “game animals” will not be protected from hunters or trappers. With 96% of mammals on earth livestock ( dead stock ) and humans, and only 4% all the WILD mammals on earth from elephants to mice ( and deer farmed like cattle ) – when do “conservationists” concern themselves not just with land, water and paintings on rocks, but with wild individual animals? When there are only 2% or 1% or oops – none?
    We need basic democratization of our state Wildlife control nature agencies – which are primarily killing businesses since inception – and USFWS reform. At least END WILDLIFE so-called “SERVICES” which kills millions of natural predators and wild mammals in the most horrific ways.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Wildlife Services is horrible. The Center for Biological Diversity has been fighting it for years, and I’d love to see it abolished. This evil agency works for agribusiness, mainly ranchers. The best thing we can do about this as individuals is to stop eating farmed meat, ESPECIALLY BEEF, and try to either grow our own produce or buy it from small local farms.

      I agree that there should be far fewer humans and far more nonhumans, but in order to accomplish that goal we need to take some personal responsibility, such as limiting our families to one child and not consuming beef.

      The roots of all these problems are human attitudes, feelings, and thinking, which cause bad human behaviors. Until we fix those root problems, the symptoms we all complain about here will continue.

    2. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Yes, the only reason I mentioned the petroglyphs because it makes you think of how long the big horn sheep have been here and humans have observed them, and I hope they still will be around in the future.

      They are under a lot of pressure from ranching, disease, and hunting. I know there does seem to be an underlying ‘humans first’ feeling, but it seems to be the only way anything can be protected.

      This country’s founding values need to change – exploitation and money.

      1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
        Jeff Hoffman

        The human supremacist attitude must end. Captain Paul Watson recently started a church of biocentrism, or something like that. That’s the kind of thing the Earth and all the life here needs. We can use human supremacism as a temporary strategy or a tactic, but we need to totally change this whole immoral attitude that people have toward the Earth and everyone here who’s not human.

  10. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    No kiddos for me. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice, but I believe I did. I may not experience the joys of motherhood, but I won’t experience the heartache either.

    I don’t eat beef or any red meat or pork, not much meat at all, have driven a Prius for years, and recycle.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      We all have different things we can do, but we need to focus on lowering the human population and consumption.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        IDK, according to Washington, our ‘young leaders’ of tomorrow are still worried about whether or not they’ll be able to start a family (when they are ready). Not extinction and crowding out other life.

        Modern medicine makes it easier than ever, for many more people, to conceive. I don’t think we’re made that way – like most life on earth, reproduction is paramount.

        Reducing conception, reducing consumption might be slightly easier, but not by much, unless it is by necessity.

        When I think of it, it would drive me insane (the rest of the way), the 24/7 demands of having a family.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          This is a complicated issue. Yes, we’re wired to breed as much as possible. In nature, very few human children live to breeding age, so the population remained stable. But once humans started using agriculture, the population exploded. If we’re going to unnaturally prolong everyone’s life, then we need to have fewer kids. Humans already have to curb their basic instincts — for example, you’re not allowed to kill someone just because they annoy you — and curbing the breeding instinct is absolutely essential in order to begin healing the Earth and all the life here from the great harms that humans have caused.

          Consumption is another issue. While the ultimate roots of these problems are the same — failure to evolve properly mentally and spiritually, or evolving improperly in those ways, however you want to characterize it — overconsumption is driven by materialist desires. As Siddhartha taught 2,500 years ago, we need to shed our desires, not try to fulfill them, and the materialist desire should be the first to go.

  11. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    ^^sorry, that is in the context of climate change’s impact.

  12. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Here’s some more good news, who’d have thought! (Don’t mind the titles in the link) and with an Idaho Republican Mike Simpson. He knows the value of our iconic salmon. Hooray!:

    Speaking of fish, my local wildlife report, what a sight both:

    The herring are returning to spawn, blue backs I think, early this year. The fish ladders are a little oasis in a very developed, congested traffic area.

    A large flock of wild turkeys were feeding in my yard, the male fanning out his feathers. I’ve seen it at a distance, but never outside my window.

  13. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I agree, materialism needs to go. Accumulated material things are unimpressive, especially in today’s world. Hooray!

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      It would be much better for the planet and all the life here if they’d just close the roads. Having these wildlife crossings is much better than not having them, obviously, but once again, just like with so-called “green” energy, humans refuse to deal with the root of the problem and try to have their cake and eat it too.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Yes, but I’ll take it! I’m thinking of the mountain lions, the 13 bison hit by a truck outside of Yellowstone’s North Entrance, etc. I do hope that the idea will take hold East, I’m not sure if we have them?

        It’s been shown that the animals do use these overpasses too. And of course, a car accident is terrible for people and animals.

  14. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    ^^I should add that keeping roadless wilderness areas as roadless as we can, and as much of that as we can. For roads we already have, redesigning them where we can. And rooftop/parking lot solar too – what a waste if we do not.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner