President Barack Obama’s decision to use the Antiquities Act to declare Nevada’s Gold Butte and Utah’s Bears Ears as national monuments has developed a firestorm of comments from officials in both states declaring the president has overstepped his bounds.
“Declaring Gold Butte a national monument puts an explanation point on President Obama’s shameful legacy of ignoring the will of communities in the American West,” said outgoing Representative Cresent Hardy (R District 4), who is a resident of nearby Mesquite. “By locking up more than a quarter million acres of southeastern Nevada, this administration is sending an unmistakeable message to rural Nevadans: You have no voice. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Although the Antiquities Act allows a president to create monuments but does not give a president authority to undo a designation, the Utah Attorney General vows to file suit challenging this designation.
“My office is working closely with the governor’s office, federal and state legislators and San Juan County to file a lawsuit challenging this egregious overreach by the Obama administration,” said AG Sean Reyes.
Nevada Attorney General Adan Laxalt said, “This unilateral land grab is the latest attempt for the outgoing president to add another layer of unnecessary federal control to our state,” Laxalt said. “Although I am not surprised by the president’s actions, I am deeply disappointed at his last minute attempt to cement his environmental legacy by undermining local control of Nevada’s communities, and damaging our jobs and economy.”
The president’s announcement came on Dec. 29. The Gold Butte designation is almost 300,000 acres northeast of Las Vegas while the Bears Ears designation covers 1.35 million acres in the Four Corners region of Utah.
“The Gold Butte area contains an extraordinary variety of diverse and irreplaceable scientific, historic and prehistoric resources,” Obama said in his proclamation, “including vital plant and wildlife habitat, significant geological formations, rare fossils, important sites from the history of Native Americans and remnants of our Western mining and ranching heritage.”
The White House stated both Gold Butte and Bears Ears were at risk for vandalism and looting.
Sen. Harry Reid, who is retiring at the of his term this month, has pushed for protection of the remote Gold Butte area. In a statement, he said the “designation is a wonderful capstone to a career of fighting to protect Nevada’s pristine landscapes.”
Friends of Gold Butte, a nonprofit group whose mission is to promote the responsible enjoyment of Gold Butte through education, stewardship, advocacy and preservation of natural and cultural resources, lauded the designation on its website.
“This incredible victory for our public lands was made possible because of the thousands of people like you in Nevad and across the country who joined tribes, elected officials, business owners, community groups and recreationists to call on our nationals leaders to safeguard a beloved landscape,” the organization stated.
In Utah, AG Reyes believes the battle is not yet won, however.
“(The courtroom) is not our only option,” he said. “Our federal delegation is working hard to defund the designation or rescind it altogether. … Additionally, we look forward to working with the new presidential administration on ways to curtail or otherwise address the designation.”