For Immediate Release March 21, 2023
Laura Cunningham, Western Watersheds Project, (775) 513-1280, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Emmerich, Basin and Range Watch, (775) 764-1080, email@example.com
SEARCHLIGHT, Nev.— Western Watersheds Project and Basin and Range Watch hailed the formation of a new national monument today, as President Biden signed the proclamation under his power using the Antiquities Act, designating Avi Kwa Ame National Monument.
The new park unit protects a diversity of Mojave Desert lands in the southern tip of Nevada, including Joshua tree woodlands, unique desert grasslands, natural cactus gardens, and cultural landscapes important to the Fort Mojave Paiute, Chemehuevi, and other Tribes along the Colorado River in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.
Desert bighorn sheep inhabit the rocky ridges and mountains, while Mojave desert tortoises, Gila monsters and diamondback rattlesnakes occupy desert basins. The Joshua tree woodlands hold several bird species that are found nowhere else in Nevada, including gilded flickers, Harris’s hawks, and occasional curve-billed thrashers.
“The area is a biodiversity hotspot,” said Laura Cunningham, California Director at Western Watersheds Project. “Among the dense Joshua trees and yuccas, a lush Mojave Desert grassland grows, recovering beautifully from historic cattle grazing that ceased twenty years ago.”
Western Watersheds Project petitioned the Bureau of Land Management to designate Avi Kwa Ame as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in 2018, after multiple battles to fend off industrial-scale energy projects in the area. Western Watersheds Project and Basin and Range Watch also organized a Bioblitz in 2022 to help document the many species of desert plants and animals here.
Historic cattle ranching in the region ended by the 1990s and 2000s as Clark County, Nevada, secured tens of millions of dollars to buy out private ranches, such as the famous Walking Box Ranch, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) permanently retired the large allotments that once covered most of the monument boundary. This was done in order to conserve Mojave desert tortoises and a suite of other imperiled species, as the Las Vegas metropolitan area to the north expanded across their habitat.
The hills and broad valleys have come under threat of energy sprawl by both wind and solar project developers. A coalition of local residents and Basin and Range Watch sued the Bureau of Land Management to halt a giant wind project, and successfully prevented its construction on these sensitive habitats. In 2015 District Court Judge Miranda Du vacated the federal permits for construction of the Searchlight Wind Project in Southern Nevada. Judge Du found that environmental analyses prepared by the BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service inadequately evaluated the dangers that the industrial-scale wind project would pose to golden eagles, desert tortoises, and bats.
In 2015 a Swedish company submitted an application to BLM to construct another wind facility, the Crescent Peak Wind Project, on 33,000 acres of the Castle Mountains along the California/Nevada boundary and up to the border of the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area. This project would have been mostly within the National Monument boundary. A coalition of environmental groups, tribes, and hunters petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to protect these mountains for bighorn sheep, eagles, and visual resources. In 2018 the Interior Department issued a letter directing BLM to deny the application.
Yet the same developer returned with a new wind application on the Castle Mountains, calling it Kulning Wind Project. Objections voiced by tribes and conservation groups about conflicts with land preservation convinced BLM to place this project on a “low priority” status.”
Recently, Avantus (formerly 8minute Energy) sought to adjust the monument boundary to accommodate their proposed Angora Solar Project on 2,500 acres, most of which overlaps the boundary of the Monument.
In 2018, Basin and Range Watch and Western Watersheds Project wrote up a nomination to protect the area as the proposed Castle Mountains Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and gained a wide array of signatories to support the nomination to the Bureau of Land Management. We believe this helped to crystalize a new National Monument campaign in the area.
“We have been working with tribal members across Nevada and California, from Ivanpah Valley to Chuckwalla Valley and along the lower Colorado River to support their push to protect important cultural landscapes in the region, including the Salt Song Trail, and the viewsheds around Spirit Mountain,” explained Kevin Emmerich, Co-Founder of Basin and Range Watch. “We were pleased to see this National Monument designated and are happy that our work to prevent industrial wind energy development on monument lands was so successful.”
Western Watersheds Project is a non-profit organization with more than 12,000 members and supporters. Our mission is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and legal advocacy.
Basin and Range Watch is a nonprofit working to conserve the deserts of Nevada and California and to educate the public about the diversity of life, culture, and history of the ecosystems and wild lands of the desert.