Biden Expands Two National Monuments, Protecting 120,000 Acres Significant to Native Nations from Outside Miyo McGinn

The Biden administration announced today that it is expanding two national monuments in California: the San Gabriel Mountains and Berryessa Snow Mountain, bringing nearly 120,000 additional acres under federal protection.

“Together, these actions will protect nearly 120,000 acres of lands in California of scientific, cultural, ecological, and historical importance, adding unparalleled value to these already beloved national monuments and expanding outdoor access to nearby underserved and disadvantaged communities,” the White House wrote in the announcement. Both monuments were established during Obama’s second term as president, and local groups have been trying to protect surrounding parcels of land in the years since.

Hoyt Mountain in San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (Photo: Bob Wick)

The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which presently spans 346,177 acres and sits just 90 minutes from downtown LA, will grow by nearly one-third, with an additional 105,919 acres. “I see this as an environmental justice action that needs to be taken,” says Belén Bernal, the executive director for Nature For All, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that has advocated for the expansion. “Our communities deserve access to these places, and they also deserve to learn more about how to be good stewards of these places.”

Bernal likes to call the San Gabriel Mountains, which have profound ecological value, “the lungs of Los Angeles.” The area is home to hundreds of rare and endangered plants and animal species, including the imperiled California condor, and the watershed accounts for one-third of the city’s drinking water.

The San Gabriels also singlehandedly amount to roughly 70 percent of the open land in LA county—the backyard, as well as the lungs, of a city that contains significantly less green space per resident than the average U.S. urban area. The monument, which is managed by the Forest Service, sees more than four million visitors each year, placing it on par with the busiest national parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

Sunset view from Molok Luyuk in Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (Photo: Bob Wick)

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, just south of the Mendocino National Forest and a two-hour drive north of San Francisco, isn’t as heavily trafficked as its SoCal counterpart. But that doesn’t make it any less ecologically or culturally important. With today’s announcement, the administration added another 13,696 acres to Berryessa’s current 330,780 acres.

At the heart of the newly protected area is an 11-mile long rideline formerly known as Walker Ridge, which is sacred to local Native Peoples and home to numerous Indigenous archeological sites. In addition to the new protections, the area will get a new name: Molok Luyuk, which means “Condor Ridge” in the language of the Indigenous Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, one of the three federally recognized Patwin groups. In their announcement, the White House also directed the Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, to explore the potential of co-management of Molok Luyuk with the local Native Peoples.

“With today’s action, President Biden has lifted up the voices of Tribes and the local community, honoring collaborative conservation for a place that deserves protection,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, the director of the Bureau of Land Management, today in a statement. “Molok Luyuk will undoubtedly become one of the treasures of the monument, and we look forward to working with the Tribes to manage it.”

The ridge and surrounding valleys also provide an important stretch of habitat for endangered species, including mountain lions, migratory birds, and black bears. “If you see Molok Luyuk within the whole monument, you can see how it connects disparate protected wilderness areas, and how it really pulls the whole monument together into one more cohesive piece,” says Schubert. The area is known for abundant wildflowers, which support 80 species of butterflies and a slew of other pollinator species—in addition to drawing human recreationalists, who can enjoy hiking, biking, and riding trails, fishing, and camping.

The latest expansions are part of a larger effort by the Biden administration to conserve 30 percent of the land and water in the U.S. by 2030 through its America the Beautiful initiative. In the years since, Biden has created or expanded seven national monuments, in addition to several national wildlife refuges.

At the moment, conservation groups and the administration are focused in particular on national monuments, because the Antiquities Act grants the president the power to create or expand them without congressional action. The Conservation Alliance, an advocacy group that supported the expansion of both the San Gabriel and Berryessa monuments, is working to get additional monuments created or enlarged.

“The Conservation Alliance has long worked alongside our grantees to support National Monuments because they are a proven tool to permanently protect public lands for all to enjoy while also directly benefiting our economy,” Rebecca Gillis, TCA’s senior director of advocacy and outreach, told Outside. “We thank President Biden, Secretary Haaland, and Congressional champions for these historic protections in California that will provide conservation benefits and enduring recreational opportunities for generations to come.”

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