The national monument will include the site of the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff, where Cliven Bundy had illegally grazed his cattle for decades and which has been a flashpoint for anti-government extremists.
Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had made preserving the area a personal crusade. Reid had tried multiple times to pass legislation to protect it, but more recently had urged Obama to use his power under the Antiquities Act to declare it a national monument. That distinction allows the area to be governed more like a national park.
The President also announced that Bears Ears, an area in southeastern Utah, would also be designated a national monument.
"Today, I am designating two new national monuments in the desert landscapes of southeastern Utah and southern Nevada to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes," Obama said in a statement. "Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes. Importantly, today I have also established a Bears Ears Commission to ensure that tribal expertise and traditional knowledge help inform the management of the Bears Ears National Monument and help us to best care for its remarkable national treasures."
The designation comes as members of the Bundy family, including patriarch Cliven Bundy, were in prison awaiting trial for their roles in the the 2014 standoff with Bureau of Land Management officials.
The BLM only recently was able to begin patrolling the land around Gold Butte. In June, almost two years after the standoff with the Bundy family and their supporters, the agency announced it would return to the area to patrol and clean it up.