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The controversial move will protect Gold Butte and Bears Ears from development.

December 29, 2016

President Obama declared two new national monuments on Wednesday, a move that will protect more than 1.65 million acres of public lands from development.

The newly designated 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument is located in San Juan County, Utah, near the Four Corners region, not far from Canyonlands National Park, and covers an area that is of historical significance to more than 25 tribes in the Southwest.

The 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument is in a desert region near Las Vegas that contains a fragile ecosystem and is home to archaeological Native American artifacts and fossils.

The move was hailed by the tribes: “We have always looked to Bears Ears as a place of refuge, as a place where we can gather herbs and plants and as a place of sacredness,” said Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation. “It is a place of safety and fortitude. It is a place where our ancestors hid and survived from U.S. cavalry during the Long War.”

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The announcement was also met with some controversy by Utah locals, who say that the state does not need anymore of its land turned into public attractions. Utah has five national parks and 10 national monuments and recreation areas. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has threatened legal action in an attempt to block the designation, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has said he plans to help President-elect Donald Trump overturn the move.

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) proposed legislation in 2013 and 2015 to turn Gold Butte into a national conservation area, but neither came to fruition. He recently worked with President Obama to have it designated a National Monument.

“President Obama is a courageous man. I could not be more grateful to him and his team for working with me to make this happen, and for everything he has done to protect public lands in Nevada,” Sen. Reid said in a statement. “By designating Gold Butte a national monument, President Obama has shown once again why he is one of greatest environmental presidents in American history.”

Obama has become an active conservationist during his eight years in office. As part of his environmental legacy, Obama has protected more than 553 million acres of public lands and waters by designating them as national parks, monuments, or wilderness areas—more than any of his predecessors, according to The New York Times.

Earlier this year, on the eve of the U.S National Parks Service’s 100th Anniversary celebration, Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, and last week announced an irreversible designation of 119 acres of federally owned waters in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, in an effort to ban oil drilling.

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