Biden expands 2 national monuments in California significant to tribal nations

President Joe Biden on Thursday expanded two national monuments in California following calls from tribal nations, Indigenous community leaders and others for the permanent protection of nearly 120,000 acres (48,562 hectares) of important cultural and environmental land.

The designations are part of the Democratic president’s “America the Beautiful” initiative, launched in 2021 in line with Biden’s campaign promises, and builds on the Great American Outdoors Act. They're aimed at honoring tribal heritage, meeting federal goals to conserve 30% of public lands and waters by 2030 and addressing climate change, the White House said in a news release.

Against the backdrop of Biden’s reelection campaign, the White House emphasized the role of Vice President Kamala Harris in ensuring protections in her home state. The state of California also has conservation targets.

“These expansions will increase access to nature, boost our outdoor economy, and honor areas of significance to Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples as we continue to safeguard our public lands for all Americans and for generations to come,” Harris said in a written statement.

Some Republicans and other critics of the president's initiative say it unnecessarily ties up resources that could be crucial for agriculture and other uses. In some cases, they allege he has exceeded his legal authority. Some of the president's past actions have included restoring monuments or conservation land that former Republican President Donald Trump had canceled.

In Pasadena, Southern California, Biden expanded the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, driven by calls from Indigenous peoples including the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and the Gabrieleno San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians. Both are the original stewards of the culturally rich and diverse lands, advocates noted in a separate news release.

The president also expanded Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in Sacramento in Northern California, to include Molok Luyuk, or Condor Ridge. The newly renamed ridgeline has been significant to tribal nations such as the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation for thousands of years. It is a central site for religious ceremonies and was once important to key trading routes, advocates said.

Expansion of both sites makes nature more accessible for Californians, while protecting a number of species, including black bears, mountain lions and tule elk, the White House release said.

Californians are calling on the Biden administration to make a total of five monument designations this year. The other three include the designation of a new Chuckwalla National Monument, new Kw’tsán National Monument and a call to protect and name Sáttítla, known as the Medicine Lake Highlands, as a national monument.

Expansion and designation efforts are made under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to “provide general legal protection of cultural and natural resources of historic or scientific interest on Federal lands,” according to the Department of the Interior.

Across the nation, coalitions of tribes and conservation groups have urged Biden to make a number of other designations over the past three years. With Thursday’s news, the administration has established or expanded seven national monuments, restored protections for three more and taken other measures, the White House said.

Biden signed a national monument designation outside Grand Canyon National Park called Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni last August, a move which the top two Republicans in Arizona's Legislature are currently challenging.

In 2021, Biden restored two sprawling national monuments in Utah and a marine conservation area in New England where environmental protections had been cut by Trump. The move was also challenged in court.

Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, sacred to Native Americans in southern Nevada, was designated in 2023 along with the Castner Range in El Paso, Texas.


Alexa St. John is an Associated Press climate solutions reporter. Follow her on X: @alexa_stjohn. Reach her at