What veterans have to lose in Trump’s national monument review
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As a Navy SEAL, it is an honor to have a fellow SEAL serving as our Secretary of the Interior.

Over the past few months, Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInterior Dept recommends reducing Bears Ears, other protected land: report Give tribes real authority in Bears Ears National Monument Trump moving toward energy exploration in Arctic wildlife refuge: report MORE toured several of the national monuments under review by order of President Trump. . This review of certain monuments designated in the last 30 years included Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, Gold Butte in Nevada and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico.

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At the end of this month, he will be making recommendations to the president that could decide the fate of these spectacular landscapes. As a New Mexican, I had the honor of welcoming Zinke to Las Cruces and hiking with him in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

 

As a veteran, I love our country’s public lands, especially the Desert Peaks.

Years ago, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area brought people from all walks of life together to have a seemingly endless conversation about how best to preserve this natural treasure in southern New Mexico. Small business owners, sportsmen, religious leaders, Native Americans, members of the Hispanic community, ranchers and veterans like me all worked with our local and federal elected officials to conserve this area for future generations to enjoy.

As a former SEAL, I focused on two areas: keeping our communities safe and ensuring that veterans have access to nature. 

In drafting the legislation that would one day transform into a national monument proclamation, Democratic lawmakers from New Mexico former Sen. Jeff Bingaman and current Sens. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallIT modernization measure included in Senate-approved defense policy bill Live coverage: Sanders rolls out single-payer bill Where Dems stand on Sanders's single-payer bill MORE and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichLive coverage: Sanders rolls out single-payer bill Where Dems stand on Sanders's single-payer bill Trade agency should listen to Congress on solar case MORE made sure that the U.S. Border Patrol’s ability to operate in the border region remained unrestricted. In fact, the proclamation preserved the agency’s ability to do so. This access also includes law enforcement, so our communities remain safe. Perhaps that is why the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol supported the legislation and designation. 

In addition to safety, I also wanted to make sure that veterans would still have access to the incredible areas within the national monument. We have found that nature is a powerful force for veterans who need to heal and gain strength. It is where we go to reconnect with our friends and family. It is where we go to hunt and hike.  

There is a strong connection between veterans and protected public lands. Our lands and waters, including national monuments, are an integral part of our nation’s identity. Growing up we sang songs about our “purple mountain majesties” and “woods and templed hills.” And overseas, we dreamt about these places where we went fishing with our grandfathers, picnicking with our families and hiking with our friends.

Access to the monument is also important for our ranchers who have lived off the land for generations. Thanks to language in the proclamation, their livelihoods will not be adversely affected by the national monument. . In fact, a recent Congressional Review Service memo found that “there have been no changes to livestock grazing on the ground as a result of the establishment of the monument.”

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is not only an important space for veterans, but for our whole community. People have come to visit and have stayed here because of our abundant wildlife, desert peaks and the history carved into the sides of our mountains. Businesses have prospered because people want to live and work near our monument.

Throughout his review, Zinke did not take sufficient time to hear from the local community that has worked so hard to protect the monument and overwhelmingly opposes changes to it.

For example, in Las Cruces, he chose not to attend a town hall. If he had, he would have heard from hundreds of us who helped create and are now benefitting from and fighting for our monument.

Unfortunately, it appears he has allowed Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) — an outspoken opponent to the national monument who has been loose with the facts — to have an exaggerated influence on his thinking.

New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is not unique in its importance to veterans. Veterans find strength and solace in all of our national monuments. Many veterans are employed by the growing economies that depend on protected public lands, and we are able to hunt and fish in these places with our friends and family. 

I urge Zinke to recommend no changes at the end of this month. As veterans, we fought to protect America and all her glory. Our national monuments are a part of that. He should leave them all intact.

Brett Myrick is a fifth generation New Mexican who served in U.S. Navy SEAL Team 5. Myrick currently resides in Gila, New Mexico.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.