As past readers know, I believe that when we as veterans swore to defend America, the commitment included protecting our nation’s public lands. These lands provide places for reflection but also recreation; for solace as well as sportsmanship.
I am excited that a fellow veteran has been nominated for Interior Secretary. Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke can likely appreciate the value of public lands to veterans for recovery after combat. Zinke once said, “I view our public lands as sacred, and access to our public lands has to be part of it…”
Yet early this year, Zinke cast a controversial vote to sell off public lands at a loss to taxpayers. As a Navy SEAL, Commander Zinke must surely recognize that what may at first seem like a harmless shot can cause a lot of internal damage.
We encourage Zinke to follow the Semper Fortis motto and stay “ever strong” to his core belief expressed last year that “selling off our public lands is a non-starter.” His upcoming Congressional confirmation process will provide him an opportunity to reconcile his inconsistent positions.
We have confidence Zinke will not abandon ship, but as Interior Secretary, will defend national public lands. We also have hope that Zinke will recognize that if he supports keeping public lands public, then he should support the Antiquities Act and the national monuments now protecting our history and honoring our heroes.
Any rollback of Antiquities Act protections is like waving a white flag to the enemy – enticing greedy developers and others to eye those public lands for seizure and selling off. As recently demonstrated, Congress is already gunning for disposing of public lands and undermining the Antiquities Act.
We’re not just talking about losing rocks and critters here – our military history is at stake. Rio Grande Del Norte protects places where homesteaders lived after returning from World War I. The Mojave Trails National Monument preserves remnants from General George S. Patton, Jr.’s U.S. Army training areas from 1942 - 1944. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument conserves six of the famous Deming bombing targets. The former U.S. Army installation at Fort Ord in California is now a national monument. And in 2013, President Obama designated the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument to honor the achievements of Colonel Young and fellow African Americans who served in the U.S. Military after the Civil War; he and his fellow “Buffalo Soldiers” were the first stewards of our national parks.
Thankfully, in an interview with Field & Stream one year ago, President-elect Trump said, “We have to be great stewards of this land.” This was following a question posed to him about transferring public lands to the states. Trump assured the interviewer that, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do.”
This statement sounds like the President-elect and his nominee for Interior Secretary have at least read the same military operations plan for managing our national public lands. But whether they both follow the same mission of keeping public lands public remains to be seen.
I remain hopeful. For if Trump and Zinke are both truly pro-public lands, they will support the Antiquities Act and conservation of sites that matter to U.S. military history and America’s veterans — and honor the authority of the Commander in Chief to use the Antiquities Act as intended to protect our significant and vulnerable American heritage.