Trump, don't take our national parks away from veterans
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At the Vet Voice Foundation, we work to harness the energy and drive of the dedicated men and women who have fought for their country, and put it to work at home and in their communities on the important issues they face, such as the environment. We value our nation’s public lands — places that we as service members fought to protect, and that we seek out for healing and renewal after coming home from war.

When the agencies that are charged with managing those lands for the nation are undermined and their resources withdrawn, we come to their aid. That’s why we feel we must speak out about the Trump administration’s troubling approach to public lands stewardship. Although they have only been in office for a short time, the president and Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeSenior Trump administration official to leave post next week 2020 Democrats vow to get tough on lobbyists 'I alone can fix it,' Trump said, but has he? MORE have already threatened the great strides on conservation and responsible energy development that have taken place under the last few presidential administrations.

Take the Interior Department’s FY18 budget, for example. It proposes an overall 12 percent cut to the agency's budget, which would include doing away with up to 4,000 full-time jobs across the U.S.

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The president’s pen takes aim at a wide range of protected public lands. He strips the budget for national conservation lands, including national monuments, by 23 percent, calls for drilling in Alaska’s sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and cuts support for the National Wildlife Refuge System. And he strikes at the very heart of America’s bold and beautiful landscapes — our National Parks. With $400 million slashed from the National Park Service budget, they are facing down what some former employees have called “the worst budget since World War II.”

In the face of these drastic budget reductions, one area did fairly well: fossil fuel development. In an effort to assert “U.S. energy dominance,” President Trump proposes an increase of $24 million for onshore fossil fuel programs, a $10 million increase for offshore programs, and the Bureau of Land Management would receive a $16 million increase for its oil and gas management program to speed up development on federal lands.

These increases in spending in the face of deep cuts to other aspects of the budget are nothing less than a craven giveaway to Trump’s friends in the coal, oil and gas industry, who already stand to gain handsomely from this administration. Industry lobbyists have even been promoted to positions of influence within the Interior Department itself.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s assault on our public lands is not just reflected in his budget proposal; it is already having tangible, real-world consequences. In late April, the president signed an Executive Order directing the Interior Department to review the size and scope of national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres. In addition to issuing an expedited review of the most recent site designated by President Obama, the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, this unprecedented move signaled the possibility that numerous monuments could be “undone” or substantially downsized.

After an expedited review period of just 45 days, Secretary Zinke recently issued a recommendation to the president to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears. In addition to being an affront to tribes and Native groups who have deep spiritual ties to the land, the decision completely ignores the opinion of the public.

In a poll commissioned by a Native-American led group, 64 percent of Utah voters said they supported the monument, and among the nearly 100,000 comments submitted to DOI during the Bears Ears review period, 96 percent were in support. By July 10th, the final day that Interior collected comments on all national monuments under review, concerned community members had submitted over 2.7 million comments.

Veterans have been outspoken advocates for the protection of Bears Ears and other national monuments in a number of ways.

Last year, Vet Voice Foundation led a letter with nearly 250 veterans from Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona in support of the Bears Ears National Monument proposal and were extremely supportive of President Obama’s decision to protect the area. We know that protecting these special places is not, and should not be, about politics; Zinke, a military man with a career of distinction, should understand that.

Thousands of veterans a year depend on our parks and public lands to heal from the impacts of war. Studies have shown that the hiking, fishing, and hunting that veterans enjoy on these lands helps those who have PTSD, and other mental and physical wounds. If President Trump and his administration really care about veterans, they would do well to remember how critical our national parks and public lands are to us, and to all Americans, and stop taking steps to diminish them by doing favors for their friends in the fossil fuel industry.

Major General Paul D. Eaton, US Army (Ret.) is managing director of Vet Voice Foundation, which mobilizes veterans to become leaders in our nation's democracy through participation in the civic process.


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