President Obama has delighted conservationists but angered conservatives with the creation of two more national monuments in the closing weeks of his presidency. The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada add huge stretches of desert areas known for sandstone formations and Native American artifacts to a total of 550 million acres of land protected by Obama—more than twice as much as declared by any previous president. Supporters, especially the Native American tribes that will co-manage Bears Ears, cheered the move, but critics dubbed them "midnight monuments" because of their last-minute nature and described them as a federal land grab that goes against the wishes of many Nevada and Utah residents, report the AFP and High Country News.
The designation will honor existing oil and mining rights but bans new development in a total of 1.6 million acres of rugged land beloved by hikers and climbers. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, accused Obama of an "astonishing and egregious abuse of executive power" that was an "affront of epic proportions and an attack on an entire way of life," the Deseret News reports. In Nevada, Harry Reid thanked Obama for protecting an area he called "quintessential Nevada," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. "Gold Butte is a glimpse of what Nevada once was," Reid said. The new protected area in Nevada is visible from the ranch of Cliven Bundy, who clashed with federal officials in 2014 over use of the land. (Last year, Obama created the world's largest protected zone.)