(CN) — For the first time in his presidency, President Joe Biden on Wednesday used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to establish the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument. Nearly the size of the nation's capital, the 53,804-acre monument lies in the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and caps years of efforts by regional communities and Congress to recognize and preserve the historical area.
Often celebrated for 10th Mountain Division, the U.S. Army’s first and only mountain infantry division that helped liberate Europe in World War II, the Camp Hale monument is also home to the Parianuche and Uncompahgre bands of Ute Peoples —forced by the U.S. to relinquish their homelands in the mid-1800s — and remains culturally significant for prayer, ceremonies, ancient burial sites and more. Additionally, the region features ecosystems, habitats and important migration corridors for threatened and endangered species and is a mecca for visitors to enjoy outdoor activities such as alpine hiking and skiing.
"When you think of the natural beauty of Colorado and the history of our nation, you'll find it here," Biden said.
The Antiquities Act was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, and Wyoming’s Devil Tower became the first national monument the same year. Since then, 19 presidents have used the act to protect 130 historically and culturally significant lands, including the Grand Canyon, Mount St. Helens, the Statue of Liberty and even George Washington’s birthplace. Most recently, then-President Donald Trump established Camp Nelson National Monument in Kentucky in 2018.
Camp Hale-Continental Divide Nation Monument marks Biden’s first use of the Antiquities Act, although his declaration comes months after the state of Utah and two Republican counties sued the Biden administration for restoring two national monuments that were diminished dramatically by Trump. The 1.3-million-acre Bear Ears National Monument, dedicated in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama in one of his final acts as president and Grand Staircase Escalante monument, dedicated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, also lie on sacred Indigenous lands.
Biden traveled to Camp Hale for the designation Wednesday afternoon, where he also announced the pausing of new mining and oil and gas drilling within the Thompson Divide area of western Colorado. According to the White House, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have jointly submitted the withdrawal petition and application to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. However, the establishment of Colorado’s newest monument will not affect valid existing water and mineral rights or impede permits held by neighboring ski resorts or other recreational opportunities.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service will continue to manage the monument and develop a plan to protect cultural resources and objects of historic and scientific interest identified in the proclamation.
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