President Joe Biden has told a gathering of tribal leaders in Washington 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 on Wednesday.
A proposal by a Sweden-based company to build a wind energy farm in the area was slow-tracked last year by the US Bureau of Land Management.
On Wednesday, Biden credited US Representative Dina Titus and Senators 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 centre 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 honour the strength of Nevada’s diversity," Williams said.
At 18,201 square kilometres, 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.
Native Americans hail announcement
A broad coalition of tribes and conservation groups has advocated for years to widen the protected area, including Walking Box Ranch, a Spanish Colonial Revival house that once belonged to 1920s-era Hollywood actors Clara Bow and Rex Bell.
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 an undeveloped landscape dotted with Joshua trees and bighorn sheep migration routes.
The designation is not final, but Native American tribal representatives hailed the president's announcement, as did 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 was listed in 1999 on the National Register of Historic Places as a place sacred to tribes.
The peak, at 1,720 metres, is already within a 135-square-kilometre wilderness area overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.
How do national monuments get created?
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.
US 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.
In October, a Utah-based tribe criticised Biden following the designation of his first national monument in Colorado, saying the White House failed to consult tribe leaders adequately.