President Joe Biden speaks at the White House Conservation in Action Summit at the Department of the Interior in Washington on Tuesday, where he announced new protections for public lands. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo
March 21 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Tuesday declared two new national monuments and more steps to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of public land.
Biden established the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, also known as Spirit Mountain, in Nevada and the Castner Range National Monument in Texas, putting more than half a million acres of public lands under federal protection.
"Our country's natural treasures define our identity as a nation," Biden said. "They're a birthright we have to pass down to generation after generation. They unite us. That's why our conservation work is so important."
Biden also announced the release of the U.S. Ocean Climate Action Plan at the White House Conservation in Action Summit in Washington.
"We know we can reduce emissions by building offshore wind farms, better protect our coastal and fishing communities from worsening storms, changing fisheries and other impacts on climate change," Biden said of the plan. "I'm also committed to working with tribal leaders here -- to bring healthy, abundant salmon runs back to the Colorado River system."
The president also directed Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to consider initiating a new national marine sanctuary designation to protect U.S. waters around the Pacific Remote Island within 30 days. The marineland will be established southwest of Hawaii and cover 777,000 square miles.
"It will make it the largest ocean area on the planet with the highest level of protection," the president said. "And it will help us meet our goal -- of protecting and conserving 30% of our oceans."
"The president's actions will protect Joshua trees and Gila monsters in Nevada and the western burrowing owl in Texas," Ellen Montgomery, public lands campaign director at Environment America, a network of some 30 state environmental groups, said in a statement celebrating the Tuesday announcement.
"This will mean more nature, scenery, wildlife and history for future generations to experience in both of these monuments."
The Aki Kwa Ame national monument in southern Nevada will envelope 506,814 acres of land in an area considered sacred by the Mojave, Chemenuevi and other native peoples. It also consists of the world's largest Joshua tree forests and is habitat for numerous species. Biden said it will now be "recognized for the significance it holds and be preserved forever."
The national monument in Texas' Caster Range will span 6,672 acres of high-desert mountains near Fort Bliss that make up the southern Franklin Mountain range outside El Paso.
"The people of El Paso have fought to protect this for 50 years," Biden said. "Their work has finally paid off."
The area was once used for training and testing by the U.S. Army, but after it is remediated to be safe, it will be open to the public. The area consists of more than 40 known archeological sites and is home to the endangered Sneed pincushion cactus and other endemic plants, as well as the American peregrine falcon and the golden eagle.
Though the moves are expected to receive support from conservationists, it comes a week after the White House signed off on a controversial drilling project in the North Slope of Alaska, which attracted condemnation from environmentalists.
Fielding questions from reporters on the Willow project on Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended Biden's environment record, stating the Department of Interior signed off on the project "because of certain legal constraints."
"Tomorrow's event is about building on the president's historic climate and conservation record, which the president is very proud of," she said.