With just a few days left in 2016, President Obama designated two new national monuments, protecting over 1.6 million additional acres of our nation’s public lands.

  • Bears Ears National Monument (named for two distinctive buttes that rise high above Cedar Mesa) covers 1.35 million acres in southern Utah.
  • Golden Butte National Monument protects over 300,000 acres in southern Nevada between the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead. 
Here are some select excerpts about Bears Ears, Golden Butte and the animals that call these beautiful places home from the Presidential proclamations protecting them:

“Rising from the center of the southeastern Utah landscape and visible from every direction are twin buttes so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or “Bears Ears.” For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountaintops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States. Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record that is important to us all, but most notably the land is profoundly sacred to many Native American tribes, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation, and Zuni Tribe.” 

“The area’s human history is as vibrant and diverse as the ruggedly beautiful landscape. From the earliest occupation, native peoples left traces of their presence. Clovis people hunted among the cliffs and canyons of Cedar Mesa as early as 13,000 years ago, leaving behind tools and projectile points in places like the Lime Ridge Clovis Site, one of the oldest known archaeological sites in Utah. Archaeologists believe that these early people hunted mammoths, ground sloths, and other now-extinct megafauna, a narrative echoed by native creation stories. Hunters and gatherers continued to live in this region in the Archaic Period, with sites dating as far back as 8,500 years ago.” 
“Tucked into winding canyons are vibrant riparian communities characterized by Fremont cottonwood, western sandbar willow, yellow willow, and box elder. Numerous seeps provide year-round water and support delicate hanging gardens, moisture-loving plants, and relict species such as Douglas fir. A few populations of the rare Kachina daisy, endemic to the Colorado Plateau, hide in shaded seeps and alcoves of the area’s canyons. A genetically distinct population of Kachina daisy was also found on Elk Ridge. The alcove columbine and cave primrose, also regionally endemic, grow in seeps and hanging gardens in the Bears Ears landscape. Wildflowers such as beardtongue, evening primrose, aster, Indian paintbrush, yellow and purple beeflower, straight bladderpod, Durango tumble mustard, scarlet gilia, globe mallow, sand verbena, sego lily, cliffrose, sacred datura, monkey flower, sunflower, prince’s plume, hedgehog cactus, and columbine, bring bursts of color to the landscape.” 
“The diverse vegetation and topography of the Bears Ears area, in turn, support a variety of wildlife species. Mule deer and elk range on the mesas and near canyon heads, which provide crucial habitat for both species. The Cedar Mesa landscape is home to bighorn sheep which were once abundant but still live in Indian Creek, and in the canyons north of the San Juan River. Small mammals such as desert cottontail, black-tailed jackrabbit, prairie dog, Botta’s pocket gopher, white-tailed antelope squirrel, Colorado chipmunk, canyon mouse, deer mouse, pinyon mouse, and desert woodrat, as well as Utah’s only population of Abert’s tassel-eared squirrels, find shelter and sustenance in the landscape’s canyons and uplands. Rare shrews, including a variant of Merriam’s shrew and the dwarf shrew can be found in this area.” 
“Carnivores, including badger, coyote, striped skunk, ringtail, gray fox, bobcat, and the occasional mountain lion, all hunt here, while porcupines use their sharp quills and climbing abilities to escape these predators. Oral histories from the Ute describe the historic presence of bison, antelope, and abundant bighorn sheep, which are also depicted in ancient rock art. Black bear pass through the area but are rarely seen, though they are common in the oral histories and legends of this region, including those of the Navajo.” 

“Consistent sources of water in a dry landscape draw diverse wildlife species to the area’s riparian habitats, including an array of amphibian species such as tiger salamander, red-spotted toad, Woodhouse’s toad, canyon tree frog, Great Basin spadefoot, and northern leopard frog. Even the most sharp-eyed visitors probably will not catch a glimpse of the secretive Utah night lizard. Other reptiles in the area include the sagebrush lizard, eastern fence lizard, tree lizard, side-blotched lizard, plateau striped whiptail, western rattlesnake, night snake, striped whipsnake, and gopher snake.” 
“Raptors such as the golden eagle, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, northern harrier, northern goshawk, red-tailed hawk, ferruginous hawk, American kestrel, flammulated owl, and great horned owl hunt their prey on the mesa tops with deadly speed and accuracy. The largest contiguous critical habitat for the threatened Mexican spotted owl is on the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Other bird species found in the area include Merriam’s turkey, Williamson’s sapsucker, common nighthawk, white-throated swift, ash-throated flycatcher, violet-green swallow, cliff swallow, mourning dove, pinyon jay, sagebrush sparrow, canyon towhee, rock wren, sage thrasher, and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.”
“As the skies darken in the evenings, visitors may catch a glimpse of some the area’s at least 15 species of bats, including the big free-tailed bat, pallid bat, Townsend’s big-eared bat, spotted bat, and silver-haired bat. Tinajas, rock depressions filled with rainwater, provide habitat for many specialized aquatic species, including pothole beetles and freshwater shrimp. Eucosma navajoensis, an endemic moth that has only been described near Valley of the Gods, is unique to this area. Protection of the Bears Ears area will preserve its cultural, prehistoric, and historic legacy and maintain its 6 diverse array of natural and scientific resources, ensuring that the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values of this area remain for the benefit of all Americans.”

“In southeast Nevada lies a landscape of contrast and transition, where dramatically chiseled red sandstone, twisting canyons, and tree-clad mountains punctuate flat stretches of the Mojave Desert. This remote and rugged desert landscape is known as Gold Butte.
The Gold Butte area contains an extraordinary variety of diverse and irreplaceable scientific, historic, and prehistoric resources, including vital plant and wildlife habitat, significant geological formations, rare fossils, important sites from the history of Native Americans, and remnants of our Western mining and ranching heritage. The landscape reveals a story of thousands of years of human interaction with this harsh environment and provides a rare glimpse into the lives of Nevada’s first inhabitants, the rich and varied indigenous cultures that followed, and the eventual arrival of Euro-American settlers. Canyons and intricate rock formations are a stunning backdrop to the area’s famously beautiful rock art, and the desert provides critical habitat for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.”

“The Gold Butte landscape that visitors experience today is the product of millions of years of heat and pressure as well as the eroding forces of water and wind that molded this vast and surreal desert terrain. Rising up from the Virgin River to an elevation of almost 8,000 feet, the Virgin Mountains delineate the area’s northeast corner and provide a stunning backdrop for the rugged gray and red desert of the lower elevations. Faulted carbonate and silicate rock form the ridges and peaks of this range, which are regularly snow-covered in winter and spring, while the southern region of Gold Butte is laced with a series of wide granitic ridges and narrow canyons. These broad landscape features are dotted with fantastical geologic formations, including vividly hued Aztec Sandstone twisted into otherworldly shapes by wind and water, as well as pale, desolate granitic domes. An actively-expanding 1,200 square-meter sinkhole known as the Devil’s Throat has been the subject of multiple scientific studies that have enhanced our understanding of sinkhole formation.”

“The Gold Butte landscape is a mosaic of braided and shallow washes that flow into the Virgin River to the north and directly into Lake Mead on the south and west. Several natural springs provide important water sources for the plants and animals living here. The arid eastern Mojave Desert landscape that dominates the area is characterized by the creosote bush and white bursage vegetative community that covers large, open expanses scattered with low shrubs. Blackbrush scrub, a slow-growing species that can live up to 400 years, is abundant in middle elevations. Both creosote-bursage and blackbrush scrub vegetation communities can take decades or even centuries to recover from disturbances due to the long-lived nature of the plant species in these vegetative communities and the area’s low rainfall. These vegetation communities are impacted by human uses, invasive species, wildfires, and changing climates. Gypsum deposits are a distinctive aspect of the Mojave Desert ecosystem and result in soil that contains physical and chemical properties that stress many plants, but also support endemic and rare species. For example, the sticky ringstem, Las Vegas buckwheat, and Las Vegas bearpoppy are unique plants that rely on gypsum soil; the populations in Gold Butte are some of only a handful of isolated populations of these species left in the world. Other rare plants in Gold Butte include the threecorner milkvetch and sticky wild buckwheat, which are sand-dependent species, as well as the Rosy two-tone beardtongue and the Mokiak milkvetch. Scattered stands of Joshua trees, an emblem of the Mojave Desert, dot the landscape along with Mojave yucca, cacti species, and chaparral species, among others.”

“The often snowcapped peaks of the Virgin Mountains in the northeastern corner of Gold Butte stand in stark contrast to the desolate desert landscapes found elsewhere in the area. Due to their elevation of almost 8,000 feet, these mountains exhibit a transition between ecosystems in the southwest. At the highest points of the Virgin Mountains, visitors can hike through Ponderosa pine and white fir forests, and visit the southernmost stand of Douglas fir in Nevada. In this area, visitors are also treated to a rare sight: the Silver State’s only stand of the Arizona cypress. The lower to middle elevations of the area are home to stands of pinyon pine, Utah juniper, sagebrush, and acacia woodlands, along with occasional mesquite stands. By adding structural complexity to a shrub-dominated landscape, these woodlands provide important breeding, foraging, and resting places for a variety of creatures, including birds and insects, and support a number of plant species.”

“Gold Butte also provides habitat for a number of wildlife species. It has been designated as critical habitat for the Mojave desert tortoise, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. These slow-footed symbols of the American Southwest rely on the creosote-bursage ecosystem that is widespread here. A generally reclusive reptile, the Mojave desert tortoise uses the protective cover of underground burrows to escape extreme desert conditions and as shelter from predators.”

“Other amphibians and reptiles also make their homes in Gold Butte. For example, once considered extinct and now a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act, the relict leopard frog has been released into spring sites in the area in a collaborative effort by local, State, and Federal entities to help revive this still very small population. The banded Gila monster, the only venomous lizard in the United States, has also been recorded in Gold Butte. Many other reptile species — including the banded gecko, California kingsnake, desert iguana, desert night lizard, glossy snake, Great Basin collared lizard, Mojave green rattlesnake, sidewinder, Sonoran lyre snake, southern desert horned lizard, speckled rattlesnake, western leaf-nosed snake, western long-nosed snake, and western red-tailed skink — also have populations or potential habitats in the area.”

“The Gold Butte area serves as an effective corridor between Lake Mead and the Virgin Mountains for large mammals, including desert bighorn sheep and mountain lions. Smaller mammals in Gold Butte include white-tailed antelope squirrel, desert kangaroo rat, and the desert pocket mouse. Several species of bat, including the Pallid bat, Allen’s big-eared bat, western pipistrelle bat, and the Brazilian free-tailed bat, are also found here, as well as the northern Mojave blue butterfly.”

“Bald and golden eagles, red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks, peregrine falcons, and white-throated swifts soar above Gold Butte. Closer to the ground, one can spot a variety of birds, including the western burrowing owl, common poorwill, Costa’s hummingbird, pinyon jay, Bendire’s thrasher, Virginia’s warbler, Lucy’s warbler, black-chinned sparrow, and gray vireo. Migratory birds, including the Calliope hummingbird, gray flycatcher, sage sparrow, lesser nighthawk, ash-throated flycatcher, and the Brewer’s sparrow, also make stop-overs in the area. These birds, and a variety of other avian species, use the diversity of habitats in the area to meet many of their seasonal, migratory, or year-round life cycle needs.”

 Golden Butte National Monument (BLM)

Bureau of Land Management Flickr Page

You can read the rest of the Presidential proclamation protecting Golden Buttes here.