Bob Leal

LAS VEGAS (CN) — President Joe Biden used a Conservation in Action Summit on Tuesday to announce the designation of two national monuments in Nevada and Texas and plans to establish a marine sanctuary near the Pacific Remote Islands southwest of Hawaii.

The Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada sits near Searchlight, a town of 500 off U.S. Highway 95 about 40 miles from Laughlin and 55 miles from Las Vegas. It runs from Lake Mead National Recreation Area in the east to the California border.

Held sacred by 12 tribes, the area is at the center of Yuman creation. It includes petroglyphs as well as rare and threatened animals and wildlife, including the desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. Peaks, natural springs, ancient Joshua tree forests over 900 years old and cultural sites dot the vast landscape. It marks Nevada’s fourth national monument.

In Texas, the Castner Range National Monument will expand access for residents in El Paso, a border city of 675,000. Both monuments will protect around 515,000 acres of public lands.

The Castner monument will protect cultural, scientific and historic objects and honor U.S. veterans and tribal nations while expanding recreational activities.

Castner Range is a noncontiguous part of Fort Bliss, and coupled with the Army’s adjacent White Sands Missile Range constitutes — at more than 4,900 square miles — the largest military base in the United States.

And the president directed Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to initiate a national marine sanctuary in 30 days to protect all U.S. waters around the Pacific Remote Islands. If completed, the new sanctuary would accomplish the president’s goal of conserving at least 30% of ocean waters under American jurisdiction by 2030, according to the White House.

These protections come on the heels of the Biden administration's greenlighting of an oil development project called Willow earlier this month in Alaska’s Western Artic, which infuriated environmentalists.

“Biden approved Willow knowing full well that it’ll cause massive and irreversible destruction, which is appalling,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “People and wildlife will suffer, and extracting and burning more fossil fuel will warm the climate even faster. Biden has no excuse for letting this project go forward in any form. New Arctic drilling makes no sense, and we’ll fight hard to keep ConocoPhillips from breaking ground.”

Energy developers had eyes on the heart of the Avi Kwa Ame for a 30,000-acre wind farm, but the national monument status squashes those plans. A coalition of tribes, locals from Searchlight, Boulder City and Laughlin, the Nevada Legislature and conservation groups ultimately came out winners in their battle.

“A little over 100 days since President Biden made the commitment to protect Avi Kwa Ame at last fall’s Tribal Nations Summit, it’s with deep gratitude toward the president and his administration that we see this designation through,” said the Honor Avi Kwa Ame Coalition in a statement.

The monument at Pacific Remote Islands encompasses nearly 500,000 square miles of open ocean, coral reef, and island habitats, making it close to five times the size of all the U.S. national parks combined and nearly twice the size of the state of Texas.