Veterans depend on national monuments. Zinke should leave them alone.

 ·  Sean Davis, The Oregonian   ·   Link to Article

I grew up in the Cascades of Oregon, walking through the forests and observing bears and other wildlife with my grandfather. The outdoors is part of my identity, as is my time in the armed services. I am a veteran who fought in the Haitian revolution in the 1990s and in the Iraq war after re-enlisting after 9/11. I was injured badly by a car bomb in Iraq, for which I received a Purple Heart. As soon as I healed, Hurricane Katrina struck, and I went down to New Orleans to do my part. I've always felt compelled to do what I can to help our country, and it's why I raise my voice today with other veterans to speak out against the attacks on our public lands being perpetrated by President Trump and his Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke. 

In December, President Trump and Secretary Zinke - another veteran -traveled to Utah and announced the biggest reduction in protected lands in American history, slashing the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This attack on our monuments is a reprehensible action that negatively affects not only Oregonians and veterans like myself, but all Americans. National monuments have for over 100 years protected our wild landscapes and most important historic sites, including sites that commemorate our military history. This is an attack on all our monuments and saps my confidence that our treasured places can remain protected for my children and our future generations. 

I live along the upper McKenzie River in Oregon today, one of the few rivers left, it seems, that one could still drink out of, unspoiled by development. There's something about wild lands, where you can go to someplace unchanged and feel whole. I've seen it happen to a lot of my fellow veterans whom I've invited out here to hike and fish. I've even convinced a few to move out here. We've seen horrible things in our respective employments, and the forest makes you feel connected to something bigger. It's truly therapeutic. This is why protected lands are so important to us-- they are lands we can count on to provide solace, peace, healing.

No one needs to lecture Secretary Zinke on public service, nor on the struggles with returning to civilian life after active duty. His commitment to his country is unquestionable, and I'm grateful for his service. This is, in part, why his actions are so disappointing. Commander Zinke, as an outdoorsman and veteran, should know as well as anyone the value of protecting land and ensuring that outdoor access is preserved, not limited. He should reflect on his own experience after leaving the Marines and ask himself if taking national monuments away from the American public truly is in our country's best interest.

Last year, Mr. Zinke launched the monument reduction process by first initiating a "review" of 27 different monuments protected since 1996. His recommendations based on this review included shrinking those two Utah monuments. In addition to cutting back these great American treasures, Mr. Zinke has encouraged President Trump to shrink two more monuments, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon. This is a landscape of deep forests, unspoiled rivers, and brimming with wildlife. Its ecosystem is similar to my own in my backyard here along the McKenzie. Here is my plea: President Trump, do not touch Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Secretary Zinke, recant your recommendation to the president. Heed the words of a proud veteran, whose experiences you surely understand. My experience sharing protected lands with fellow veterans has compelled me to speak up in defense of our national monuments, which you should take seriously.

My hope is that the president and secretary will stop attacking our outdoor heritage. Americans, including its veterans, have relied on our national monuments and other protected public lands for peace, solitude, recreation and more. Our leaders should listen to those who fought for this country in defense of our fellow Americans' liberties. That includes keeping our monuments open and accessible to all.

Sean Davis is a Purple Heart recipient who served 13 years in the military. He is a published author and teaches literature at Clackamas Community College. He lives in McKenzie Bridge.