Nevada groups mustering support for new national monument

Nevada groups mustering support for new national monument
Growing support for national monument designation of Avi Kwa Ame has brought together Nevada tribes, rural towns, business leaders, and conservationists. (Photo courtesy of Justin McAffee)

by Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
September 22, 2021

LAS VEGAS–Support for a fourth national monument in southern Nevada is strong, say conservation groups, and with the right messaging they believe support will only grow.

Those assumptions seem to bare out in a poll of more than 400 likely voters across Nevada, conducted by Data For Progress, a national progressive think tank. 

The survey, commissioned by Battle Born Collective, gauged voter support for designating Avi Kwa Ame in southern Clark County as a national monument, a proposal that would protect 380,000 acres of indigenous cultural sites and critical habitat from future energy development and mining.

While eight in 10 Nevada voters have not heard about Avi Kwa Ame, 57% support designating it as a national monument, according to the group’s survey. That figure jumped to 62% after respondents were provided more information about the site.

Avi Kwa Ame, which means Spirit Mountain in Mojave, is considered culturally significant and sacred to 10 Yuman-speaking tribes of the Mojave. The area is an important part of the various tribes’ spiritual ideology and is featured in Mojave creation beliefs.

More than 80% of the land within the proposed monument is already federally protected as critical habitat. However, the designation would connect existing protected landscapes from the East Mojave Desert to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and permanently protect the area from future energy development and mining.

The site is threatened by future energy development like the proposal by Crescent Peak Renewables — a subsidiary of Swedish-owned Eolus North America — to build a 9,154-acre wind energy project on the Nevada-California border.

Survey respondents were read competing arguments for designating the area as a national monument.  The supporting argument highlighted the protection of wildlife and species, and the cultural significance of the site to Native peoples. The opposing argument described the designation as a “federal land grab” that would harm the economy and the energy and natural resource industries. 

Upon hearing the opposing arguments, 73% percent of Democrats either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported the designation, compared to 49% of Republicans.

Supporters of the monument say the designation would create “an essential corridor” between the Mojave National Preserve in California and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area creating a continuous block of habitat for wildlife and ecosystems in the region.

Several tribes have signaled strong support for the national monument. In 2019, the Fort Mojave Indian Council voted unanimously to formally support the protection of the Avi Kwa Ame. Both the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe and the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada adopted resolutions in 2021 supporting the monument.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes also sent a letter of support for the monument to Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto earlier this year.

Tribal members are working to inform Nevadans about the significance of Avi Kwa Ame to native peoples, including participating in a multimedia story map highlighting Indigenous perspectives produced by the Conservation Lands Foundation in partnership with local conservation groups.

A majority of voters, 58%, said tribes and Indigenous peoples should be consulted on new conservation sites. A larger majority, 71%, said “local residents” should be consulted.

“It is encouraging to see that many Nevadans recognize that the original stewards of this land, Indigenous people, should be given priority on new conservation sites,” said Taylor Patterson, executive director of the Native Voters Alliance-Nevada, a group supporting the monument. “However, it is important to go beyond using sacred spaces to advance conservation efforts. Natives must be involved every step of the way including in the creation of management plans once land is protected.”

“The results of this state survey are very encouraging for us local residents fighting to protect our public lands and our unique plants and animals,” said Kim Garrison Means, a third-generation resident of Searchlight and Avi Kwa Ame organizer.

So far organizers have focused their efforts at the local grass-roots level, however, they are now expanding their campaign to state and national levels.

Part of those campaign efforts will be a traveling series of art exhibitions and events in 2022, including an exhibit at the Barrick Museum of Art on the UNLV campus. The “Spirit of the Land” exhibit will include “new works about the culture, history, ecology and current issues in the Avi Kwa Ame landscape, featuring over 30 Nevada artists,” said Garrison Means, a lead organizer for the exhibition.

Land conservation proved a popular political proposal in the poll.

When asked if they would be “more or less likely to vote for a candidate for the U.S. Senator from Nevada if they supported locally led conservation efforts, including the establishment of new national monuments in Nevada,” 30% of Democratic respondents said they would be “much more” likely, compared to 20% of Republicans.

When “much more likely” was combined with “somewhat more likely,” 67% of Democrats responded affirmatively, as did 62% of Republican voters.

The Data for Progress poll also cites strong support for President Joe Biden’s land conservation plan that seeks to protect 30% of American lands and water by 2030. That plan has the support of Gov. Steve Sisolak, the Nevada Legislature, and Clark County lawmakers.

The 30 by 30 conservation proposal enjoys support from 77% of voters – and 81% of voters believe the U.S. government needs to take steps now to meet the goal.

“Protecting Avi Kwa Ame isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also smart politics,” said Neal Desai, a senior program director for the National Parks Conservation Association, a group supporting the monument. “This proposed national monument contains tremendous values, from the world’s largest Joshua tree forest to the creation story for many Native American tribes. The survey shows that residents want their elected officials to step up to protect these types of places for generations to come.”

The poll was conducted from Sept. 2 to 9, 2021 using a web panel to reach 407 likely voters in Nevada. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ±5 percentage points.

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