U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack Wednesday (Dec. 28) joined tribes, members of Congress, state and local officials, and local business and community leaders in applauding President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in southeastern Nevada.

According to a release from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the designations represent the best of America’s natural wonders and complete what tribes, members of Congress, state and local officials, and local business and community leaders have sought for decades, but Congress failed to take action.

The new monuments protect approximately 1.64 million acres of existing federal land in two spectacular western landscapes – 1.35 million acres in Utah and nearly 300,000 acres in Nevada. Both areas contain land sacred to Native American tribes, important cultural sites, and fragile wildlife habitat.

The monument designations maintain currently authorized uses of the land that do not harm the resources protected by the monument, including tribal access and traditional collection of plants and firewood, off-highway vehicle recreation, hunting and fishing and authorized grazing. The monument designation also does not affect valid existing rights for oil, gas, and mining operations, military training operations, and utility corridors.

“The rock art, ancient dwellings, and ceremonial sites concealed within these breathtaking landscapes help tell the story of people who have stewarded these lands for hundreds of generations,” said Jewell. “Today’s action builds on an extraordinary effort from tribes, local communities, and members of Congress to ensure that these treasures are protected for generations to come, so that tribes may continue to use and care for these lands, and all may have an opportunity to enjoy their beauty and learn from their rich cultural history.”

“Utahns of all creeds are rightfully proud of the spectacular Bears Ears landscape, treasuring the opportunity to recreate, hunt, ranch and engage in their traditional cultural and spiritual practices. Rather than closing off opportunities to continue those uses, today’s announcement is a recognition that those activities can continue, and the natural and cultural resources the communities prize are worthy of permanent protection to be shared with all Americans,” said Vilsack. “As we move forward with planning for monument implementation, the deep knowledge of the tribal community as well as ranchers, recreationists, archeologists and local community citizens will be heard.”

The 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument protects one of the richest cultural landscapes in the United States, with thousands of archaeological sites and areas of spiritual significance. These lands are sacred to many Native American tribes today who use them for ceremonies, collecting medicinal and edible plants, and gathering materials for crafting baskets and footwear. To ensure that management decisions affecting the monument reflect tribal expertise and traditional and historical knowledge, the presidential proclamation establishes a Bears Ears Commission, comprised of tribal representatives, to provide guidance and recommendations on management of the monument.

Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz’s Utah Public Lands Initiative (H.R. 5780) proposed to conserve 1.39 million acres (1.28 million Federal acres) in mostly the same area as the Bears Ears National Monument by designating two new National Conservation Areas and a Wilderness, which would prohibit future mining and oil and gas activities in these areas. Their legislation also proposed a Tribal Commission to help inform management of the area and created additional opportunities for interested stakeholders to offer input, similar to what today’s action has established. These designations build on the framework developed by the congressmen to both protect and allow for continued use and enjoyment of the area by residents and visitors.

“President Obama has been consistent in his commitment to work with Tribal governments, and this historic designation builds on his legacy,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. “We are particularly pleased that the designation affirms tribal sovereignty and provides a collaborative role for Tribes to work with the federal government in maintaining the land. Because Tribes will help manage this land, it reaffirms President Obama’s fundamental commitment to human rights and equity in voice. Furthermore, while the land will be protected, our local Utah-based tribal members will continue to have access to the land for gathering ceremonial herbs. The land has always been a place of sacredness and fortitude for our people. Now it will be preserved for all future generations.”

Begaye further said, “We appreciate the great effort and everyone involved, including the Utah Congressional delegation who worked very hard on a parallel proposal. It is heartening to know our friends from the Utah delegation care deeply about conserving this irreplaceable land. We look forward to working with them and all our elected representatives in Congress on our constituents’ shared priorities.”

Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial kivas, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record surrounded by a dramatic backdrop of deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and forested highlands and the monument’s namesake twin buttes.

For these reasons, the Bears Ears area has been proposed for protection by members of Congress, Secretaries of the Interior, state and tribal leaders, and local conservationists for at least 80 years. Native American tribes whose ancestral lands include the Bears Ears area advocated for permanent protection, led by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition made up of the Hopi Nation, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Zuni Tribe. Numerous tribes with ties to the region, including the above tribes, have passed resolutions and sent letters in support of a national monument designation.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS) will jointly manage Bears Ears National Monument. In doing so, both agencies will jointly prepare a management plan developed with maximum public involvement, including tribal, local and state governments, permit holders, other stakeholders and other federal land management agencies in the local area, including the National Park Service.

The area’s tradition of ranching, which dates back to the late 1800s, will continue. Grazing permits and leases will continue to be issued by the BLM and the USFS.

Recreationists strongly support the monument, which will protect the area’s world-class rock climbing, hunting, backpacking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and off-highway vehicle recreation – activities that will continue to be a source of economic growth for southeastern Utah.

Click here to read the full release.