President Biden will move to protect some 514,000 acres of land in designating two areas in Nevada and Texas as new national monuments on Tuesday. The Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, comprising 506,000 acres in Southern Nevada, is "only the second national monument created specifically to protect Native history," per the New York Times. It will preserve the desert surrounding Spirit Mountain, a sacred place for Yuman-speaking tribes, which have long pushed for the designation. It's "the point of Mojave creation" and "a very important and integral part of our history and belief system," Ashley Hemmers, tribal administrator of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, tells CNN. "If something were to happen to it, it would be like losing a loved one."
Though 33,000 acres were already protected, the expanded monument "creates one of the largest contiguous areas of protected wildlife habitat in the United States," linking California's Mojave National Preserve with the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona, according to a White House statement. Biden vowed to protect the site back in November. Some groups had argued the land should be used for wind and solar energy development, but the Interior Department said that was out of the question because much of the land is part of the critical habitat for a species of desert tortoise, per CNN. It's also home to desert bighorn sheep, Gila monster lizards, rare grasses, and one of the largest Joshua tree forests in the world, per NPR.
Biden will also establish the Castner Range National Monument on 6,600 acres of West Texas' Fort Bliss, near El Paso. The land—which boasts rugged canyons, arroyos, prehistoric archaeological sites, and ancient rock art and is home to the checkered whiptail lizard, desert cottontail, and western desert tarantula—was used as a military training site until 1966. Once cleared of unexploded munitions, its treasures—including views described by Jack Kerouac in 1958's The Dharma Bums as encompassing "all of Mexico, all of Chihuahua, the entire sand-glittering desert of it"—will be in reach of the historically underserved communities bordering the range, the White House said, per the Times. (Read more national monuments stories.)