As a national monument, Avi Kwa Ame would also be a local refuge
Designating Avi Kwa Ame in southern Clark County as a national monument would protect 380,000 acres of Indigenous cultural sites and critical habitat from future energy development and mining. (Photo credit: Justin McAffee)
On October 12, 2022, the Nation celebrated President Biden’s historic decision to designate his administration’s first National Monument at Camp Hale, 20 miles north of Leadville, Colorado.
Deep in the Rocky Mountains at 9,200 feet elevation, the new Continental Divide National Monument, CDNM, spanning more than 53,800 acres, respectfully recognizes our World War II veterans. Not only an alpine training site honoring where U.S. soldiers prepared for battles in the Italian Alps during World War II, CDNM simultaneously becomes a refuge for hikers and campers, and for the preservation of rare wildlife such as lynxes and songbirds. Here in Nevada, a sister Western State, my group, Blue Diamond Broads, a chapter of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, applauds this historic designation.
I would like to invite the Biden Administration to turn their attention to the great state of Nevada. The proposed Avi Kwa Ame (Ah-VEE kwa-meh) National Monument contains some of the most visually stunning, biologically diverse, and culturally significant lands in the entire Mojave Desert.
The proposed area is located in the far southern corner of the state, encompassing Searchlight, birthplace of Sen. Harry Reid, and surrounded on its borders by Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Mojave Preserve on the California side, and nine separate Wilderness Areas.
Avi Kwa Ame is culturally invaluable to 10 different indigenous tribes. It holds crucial migratory corridors for our State Mammal, the Desert Bighorn Sheep. The Bighorn travel through Avi Kwa Ame between the Castle Mountains and New York Mountains as well as between the Piute and South McCullough Ranges. As climate change continues to affect their habitats and drive them to higher elevations, preserving this area can help ensure their survival in a fully intact ecosystem.
The Desert Bighorn Sheep may be the most recognizable resident of Avi Kwa Ame. However, the 443,671 acre site is home to 28 unique species of native desert grasses, over half of which are classified as a rare species. While these humble plants do not receive the attention of the Bighorn Sheep, the grasses are the foundation of the food chain and play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the landscape for all. Insects, small mammals and reptiles, like the endangered desert tortoise, a keystone species; birds, such as the adorable burrowing owl; major predators, like the magnificent mountain lion; the ancient Joshua Trees, a critical indicator species, and everyone’s favorite, the wiley Roadrunner, are all ultimately dependent on these grasses. On the verge of extinction is the Las Vegas Bearpoppy flower and the Mojave Poppy Bee, which depends on the Bearpoppy plant.
The desert can be mistaken as empty space to the inexperienced. Preserving this area is crucial in increasing our understanding and respect for this ecosytem for all future generations. The designation of Avi Kwa Ame as a protected area offers more visitors a greater chance to enjoy the magic of an intact desert ecosystem in all its glory. Outdoor recreation has been a crucial part of my own life and to the mission of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness in protecting our Nation’s Public Lands. The remote emptiness of this area of Southern Nevada offers the open space to hike with my dogs and enjoy time on the trails across the monument site. The area affords a magnificent dark-night sky experience. Avi Kwa Ame is free from light pollution and gives the visitor a chance to see the cosmos in a way that is growing increasingly rare in Southern Nevada. For millennia, kids have looked up to the skies and have been inspired to become artists, scientists, explorers and more.
When I think of the endless possibilities that Avi Kwa Ame National Monument could offer city-weary folks, I turn my thoughts to future generations. What better gift can we give our children than a refuge of unspoiled nature? It is my hope that those future generations can experience Avi Kwa Ame and the desert landscape as I have. May they share the land with the wild plants and animals who have called this place home for thousands of years, and inherit the opportunity to explore the ground beneath their feet and skies above their heads.
The initiative of President Biden in designating the Continental Divide National Monument must be only the beginning. I hope that President Biden continues to use his authority to act as a champion for protecting our Public Lands, especially those here in Southern Nevada.
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