U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack Wednesday (Dec. 28) joined tribes, members of Congress, state and local officials, and local business and community leaders in applauding President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in southeastern Nevada.

According to a release from the Department of the Interior, the designations represent the best of America’s natural wonders and complete what tribes, members of Congress, state and local officials, and local business and community leaders have sought for decades, but Congress failed to take action.

The new monuments protect approximately 1.64 million acres of existing federal land in two spectacular western landscapes – 1.35 million acres in Utah and nearly 300,000 acres in Nevada. Both areas contain land sacred to Native American tribes, important cultural sites, and fragile wildlife habitat.

The monument designations maintain currently authorized uses of the land that do not harm the resources protected by the monument, including tribal access and traditional collection of plants and firewood, off-highway vehicle recreation, hunting and fishing and authorized grazing. The monument designation also does not affect valid existing rights for oil, gas, and mining operations, military training operations, and utility corridors.

“The rock art, ancient dwellings, and ceremonial sites concealed within these breathtaking landscapes help tell the story of people who have stewarded these lands for hundreds of generations,” said Jewell. “Today’s action builds on an extraordinary effort from tribes, local communities, and members of Congress to ensure that these treasures are protected for generations to come, so that tribes may continue to use and care for these lands, and all may have an opportunity to enjoy their beauty and learn from their rich cultural history.”

“Utahns of all creeds are rightfully proud of the spectacular Bears Ears landscape, treasuring the opportunity to recreate, hunt, ranch and engage in their traditional cultural and spiritual practices. Rather than closing off opportunities to continue those uses, today’s announcement is a recognition that those activities can continue, and the natural and cultural resources the communities prize are worthy of permanent protection to be shared with all Americans,” said Vilsack. “As we move forward with planning for monument implementation, the deep knowledge of the tribal community as well as ranchers, recreationists, archeologists and local community citizens will be heard.”

The 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument protects one of the richest cultural landscapes in the United States, with thousands of archaeological sites and areas of spiritual significance. These lands are sacred to many Native American tribes today who use them for ceremonies, collecting medicinal and edible plants, and gathering materials for crafting baskets and footwear. To ensure that management decisions affecting the monument reflect tribal expertise and traditional and historical knowledge, the presidential proclamation establishes a Bears Ears Commission, comprised of tribal representatives, to provide guidance and recommendations on management of the monument.