Last month, President Joe Biden committed to protecting 30 percent of U.S. land and waters by 2030. In Carson City, freshman Assemblywoman Cecelia González (D-Las Vegas) is looking at a resolution that would signal the Legislature’s support for such efforts in Nevada.
With those goals in mind, a coalition of environmental groups and local tribes are advocating for the creation of a national monument in Clark County that would span more than 380,000 acres, connecting land designated for conservation and recreation in California and Arizona.
The new monument, stretching from Mojave National Preserve in California to parts of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area would provide protections for Avi Kwa Ame, the Mojave name for “Spirit Mountain,” a spiritual center for Yuman-speaking tribes along the Colorado River.
“It is the sacred place for Mojaves and others along the [Colorado River] corridor here,” said Linda Otero, who directs the Aha Makav Cultural Society for the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe.
In 1999, the federal government designated Avi Kwa Ame on the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing its importance for ten Yuman-speaking tribes, the Chemehuevi Paiute and the Hopi. But that designation was limited in its full scope. Alan O’Neill, superintendent of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area at the time, said the designation did not include a lot of land that surrounded Avi Kwa Ame, and there was a need, even then, for more protection.
“There was a kind of unspoken commitment that I had to the tribes that we can revisit this issue another time,” O’Neill said. “That discussion wasn’t completed” with the historic register listing.
The proposal for an Avi Kwa Ame National Monument was floated in a draft of the Clark County Public Lands Bill, prepared by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s office. The legislation would seek to allow growth in the Las Vegas area, down the I-15 corridor toward Ivanpah, while conserving land to offset new growth. But it might not take Congress to create a new monument. Biden, as President Obama did with Gold Butte, could designate a monument with the Antiquities Act.
Jocelyn Torres, a senior field director at the Conservation Lands Foundation who is part of the group advocating for the monument, said it could get designated through either process.
“We see this region as the missing piece of the puzzle connecting the California-side [national monument and conservation] designations to Lake Mead and the Colorado River,” Torres said.
Advocates of the monument note that it could also protect a sensitive landscape from future energy development. The current proposed boundary for the new monument includes an area targeted for the Crescent Peak wind project, which federal land managers rejected in 2018.
“It would have absolutely destroyed the integrity of that landscape,” O’Neill said.
For the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, protecting the land has never been a choice, especially now. Paul Jackson, who works with the Aha Makav Cultural Society, said that Spirit Mountain and the land around it is not only a spiritual center for the Tribe, it is a source of learning and substance.
“There have been a lot of changes over the last 50 years,” he said.
The landscape around the Tribe’s lands have changed with more development. The Colorado River, once a free-flowing waterway, was dammed. Aha Makav translates to “people along the river,” he noted. With people have come different species of fish. Rock climbers have left gear in mountains near petroglyphs. Development has clouded once dark skies around Spirit Mountain.
González, who supports the monument, requested a resolution in the Legislature urging the federal government “to protect 30 percent of lands and waters in Nevada by 2030.”
She said it was important that tribes play a role in how lands are managed.
“Having indigenous folks at the table ensures they are not left out,” González said. “But it also ensures that we don’t make assumptions about what the community’s needs are.”