On Tuesday, President Joe Biden proclaimed two vast swaths of land – Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada and Castner Range in West Texas – as national monuments, a designation that preserves a total of more than 500,000 acres of land from new development. President Biden also started the process of designating 777,000 square miles around the Pacific islands southwest of Hawaii as a National Marine Sanctuary.
Castner Range is a site with ancient rock art, cultural deposits, and historic military locations. The land, which is a part of Fort Bliss, was a training site up until 1966 and needed to be remediated because of unexploded munitions. It is known for waves of yellow and orange poppies in the spring.”When you see it, it’s just breathtaking,” Biden said. “Once it is safe for public access following remediation of military munitions … Castner Range will become a natural classroom offering unique opportunities to experience, explore, and learn from nature in a unique setting that is close to a major urban center.”
Before taking office, Biden had pledged to conserve more land, but he has gone under intense criticism from environmental groups for approving the Willow project (a controversial oil drilling project) in Alaska. Many Anti-Willow activists argued that the Willow project is inconsistent with Biden’s promises to fight climate change, even though the Biden Administration declared the Arctic Ocean off limits to oil and gas leasing and imposed regulations to protect about 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
Not to mention, Nevada’s new Republican governor slammed the monument designation as “federal confiscation” of Nevada land and “a historic mistake that will cost Nevadans for generations to come.” He claimed that the protections would put rare earth mineral projects and other long-planned development at risk. Regardless of this, many conservation and tribal groups praised Biden’s actions, specifically because the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, also known as Spirit Mountain, is considered sacred by a dozen tribes. Advocates say that this designation will help preserve ancestral land, and as Biden had put it, “It’s a place of reverence, it’s a place of spirituality, and it’s a place of healing, and now it will be recognized for the significance it holds and be preserved forever.”