We must hold the line on national monuments

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton of Fox Island is managing director of Vet Voice Foundation.
Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton of Fox Island is managing director of Vet Voice Foundation. Courtesy photo

America’s military families know that our public lands are a resource worth protecting. My father, an avid outdoorsman, took my brothers and me camping, fishing, and hiking as we traveled the country during his career with the Air Force.

Places like the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Yosemite and many others left us with a profound appreciation for America’s public lands. During my own career with the Army, my wife and I repeated the tradition with our three children in the U.S. and abroad.

Visionary leaders like President Theodore Roosevelt worked to create our legacy of public lands, part of our heritage we can pass down from one generation to the next. But now Teddy’s legacy is under attack by politicians both in Congress and the Trump Administration.

Veterans are pushing back and speaking up about how important it is to preserve this integral piece of our heritage. I’m proud to be one of them in my role at Vet Voice Foundation. One of our key priorities is protecting public lands, a resource that veterans, military families and all Americans should be able to enjoy forever.

After a 30-year military career, I retired to beautiful Washington state, in part for the opportunity to enjoy its national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and conservation lands. These places help define for me what it means to be an American, and they inspire me to speak up for their protection.

These lands are part of the greater ideals I fought to defend as a soldier. When a soldier comes home and uses the great outdoors to recover from the stresses of combat, we call it walking off the war.

It is abhorrent to me that anyone would try to take this resource away. But we are fighting against increasingly radical efforts to sell off public lands to the highest bidder, or roll back protections and laws that have been in place more than 100 years.

A bill moving through the U.S. House – HR 3990 – would severely cripple the Antiquities Act, the law responsible for protecting a huge majority of our national parks.

Iconic places like Olympic National Park and San Juan Islands National Monument would never have been protected if such a bill became law; that’s why we have to fight back.

Our public lands legacy is also under assault by the Trump Administration, in particular by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. His “review” of national monuments designated under the previous three presidents has been a sham.

Fortunately, he allowed for public comments, and 98 percent of the 2.8 million comments submitted support keeping current protections in place. Still, the review now sits on the president’s desk, creating uncertainty for communities that fear having their monuments reduced or rescinded.

We can't let this happen. An assault on one monument is an assault on all. We must hold the line. We are on defense to preserve the jewels of America for our sons and daughters.

For the last few years, I have trooped the halls of Congress talking to members and their staffs to explain why veterans and our families need these special places. Our opponents are a vocal fringe with powerful allies in the oil and gas industries.

Our allies are many: Native Americans, sportsmen, business owners, faith leaders and concerned citizens of all types. Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell has been a vocal opponent of Antiquities Act changes.

We ask for your support. Contact the administration. Contact your legislators and make your case. Our children and their children will bless you for it.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Paul Eaton served more than 30 years in the U.S. Army. He is managing director of Vet Voice Foundation. He and his wife PJ live on Fox Island.