Energy & Environment

Biden vows protections for Nevada’s Spirit Mountain

the mojave desert

President Biden on Wednesday committed his administration to protecting a Nevada mountain and the surrounding landscape, but stopped short of the national monument designation desired by advocates.

Avi Kwa Ame, or Spirit Mountain, is a sacred site to the Indigenous people of the Yuman language group, and environmentalists have also called for a national monument designation, which would prevent development on about 450,000 acres around the mountain.

Speaking at the White House Tribal Nations Summit Wednesday, Biden did not announce a formal designation, despite initial reports that he would make the second such announcement of his presidency. Formal protections for the area would make it the largest acreage protected under the Biden presidency so far.

“When it comes to Spirit Mountain and the surrounding ridges and canyons in Southern Nevada, I’m dedicated to protecting this sacred place that’s crucial to the creation story of so many tribes that are here with us today,” the president said. An Interior Department official confirmed to The Hill this did not constitute a designation.

“Avi Kwa Ame holds deep spiritual and historic significance to the Native people who have stewarded these lands since time immemorial,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary. “I am thrilled that President Biden is committed to protecting this sacred place, and honor the many years of work of the Tribes and local community to safeguard the integrity of the historic and cultural landscape and the many objects of significance within it.”

The push to protect Avi Kwa Ame has led to atypical friction between environmentalists and the renewable energy sector. Last December, the Bureau of Land Management signaled it will not authorize a proposed wind farm in the Mojave Desert that would have overlapped with the proposed monument.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) is among the voices calling for a formal designation, saying in a statement Wednesday, “The land within Avi Kwa Ame is sacred to 12 Tribal nations, includes critical habitat for a wide range of wildlife, provides world-class outdoor recreation opportunities, and contains some of the most stunning landscapes in Nevada. I look forward to celebrating the official designation of Nevada’s next national monument.”

In October, Biden named Colorado’s Camp Hale the first national monument of his presidency, after previously invoking the Antiquities Act to restore national monument status to three sites that saw their status rolled back under the Trump administration.

The Hill has reached out to the White House Council on Environmental Quality for clarification on whether a national monument designation is forthcoming or under consideration.

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