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Another national monument in works for Nevada?

Updated April 26, 2023 - 2:11 pm

Nevada’s U.S. senators sent a letter Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, urging the Biden administration to support another national monument designation in Nevada: the Bahsahwahbee, or Swamp Cedars, located in eastern Nevada.

The call to designate the area located north of Great Basin National Park comes about a month after President Joe Biden protected more than 500,000 acres of land in southern Nevada with the designation of Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument.

Swamp Cedars, known as Bahsahwahbee in Shoshone, is a holy site for nearby tribal nations, including the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, the Ely Shoshone Tribe, and the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, according to the letter.

During the 1800s, about 1,000 of their ancestors — who are referred to as the “Newe,” which means “The People” — were killed in three separate massacres, two of which by the U.S. military and another believed to have been carried out by a group of local vigilantes.

The area is also home to the “globally unique” Rocky Mountain juniper tree known as the swamp cedar. The Newe believe the swamp cedars are the spiritual embodiment of their massacred ancestors, the letter says. Tribes continue to view the area as a sacred space, where they pass down traditional knowledge, hold ceremonies and pray.

“The Tribes wish for their stories to be known and memorialized, and for the natural beauty of this area to be permanently protected,” the senators wrote in the letter.

In 2021, the Nevada Legislature pushed legislation aiming to protect swamp cedars, passing Assembly Joint Resolution 4 to urge Congress and the president to protect land containing swamp cedars in Spring Valley.

Although the total proposed acreage has not been finalized, the majority of the area is listed as a Traditional Cultural Property on the National Register of Historic Places, but the senators are urging further protection from development.

Swamp Cedars drew attention amid a decades-long attempt by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pipe water from the area to Las Vegas to support development. That project was opposed by tribes and others who argued that pumping the groundwater could potentially harm the trees. The project was finally abandoned in 2020.

The senators wrote that existing land management issues and will require a collaborative process with tribes, local communities, energy companies, mining companies, water authorities, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Federal land can be designated as a national monument either through congressional legislation, or by the president under the power designated in the Antiquities Act of 1906, which is how Biden named Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument.

The late chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation — Rupert Steele, who died in January 2023 — was a strong advocate for the protection of the swamp cedars.

“Bahsahwahbee is a very important, sacred, spiritual and holy place for us,” he said in 2021.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

04.26.23 Letter to DOI Re Bahsahwahbee National Monument by Jessica Hill on Scribd

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