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.
“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 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.”
Bureau of Land Management Flickr Page
You can read the rest of the Presidential proclamation protecting Golden Buttes here.