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Historic Castner Range should be America’s next National Monument

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Set inside El Paso, Texas, Castner Range makes up 7,000 acres of desert space aboard historic Fort Bliss, one of the largest U.S. Army bases in the country. Throughout history, it has served as home to some of the first living organisms, the ancestral home to indigenous communities such as the Comanche and Apache, the site of diverse plant and animal life and eventually, a training ground for the U.S. military. The land has served us well over the centuries, and it’s time to make sure it continues to serve the people of this country for generations to come. 

That’s why I’ve been such a vocal supporter of the protection and expansion of public lands, and why I joined seven other senior retired military leaders to urge the Biden-Harris administration to permanently protect West Texas’s Castner Range by designating it as a National Monument. 

Designating Castner Range as a National Monument would ensure military and cultural heritage sites, endangered species, scientific and environmental wonders and an awe-inspiring landscape are permanently protected. Moreover, this move would benefit marginalized communities, specifically indigenous and Latino peoples. These communities have been paramount to our military’s success, but disproportionately bear the brunt of climate impacts and traditionally have less access to nature. Additionally, designating Castner Range as a National Monument would stimulate the local economy through expanded outdoor recreational opportunities. 

The U.S. military and veteran community has always held a special relationship with the land of this country. Throughout the more than 250 years of our nation’s history, servicewomen and men have trained, fought, bled and recovered on the soil, in the mountains and amongst the desert wildlife.  

Veterans and military families have long been central figures in efforts to create, expand and safeguard our nation’s greatest treasures — our public lands and waters. For example, fellow veteran President Teddy Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to protect millions of acres during his presidency. World War II veteran Earl Shaffer became the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail following his service. And the veterans of today who mobilized and organized in communities across the nation for years to ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund was permanently and fully funded, an effort that was finally achieved with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. Wherever one finds an effort to protect our wild spaces, one will find a veteran lending their voice to those efforts. 

I’m proud to be part of that line of veterans. 

And I’m proud of the work our president has done so far to protect these sacred places for future generations — most recently his restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. It’s a great first start. But more must be done and now I join fellow veterans and senior military leaders in urging President Biden to use the authorities granted to him by the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect this rich and diverse landscape for all Americans.  

Years ago, I flew over Castner Range in an assault helicopter — its sweeping ridges and green and yellow dotted mountainsides were stunning. The details of our nation — more than 2 billion years of history — were nested along the paths and held in the prickly leaves of sagebrush. Like the water stored in a desert cactus, Castner Range holds our past, and our future – but only if we take a stand now to protect it. President Biden and Secretary Haaland have not only the power to make this happen but also the support of El Paso’s elected officials, community leaders, conservation groups and military veterans like us. 

We are ready to work with you to do whatever we can to see the Castner Range National Monument made a reality — for ourselves and for future generations.

Major General (R) Paul Eaton currently serves as senior advisor to VoteVets. Eaton spent over 30 years in Infantry assignments and combat and post-combat assignments, including Chief of Infantry and Commanding General of the unit missioned to create the Iraqi Armed forces.

Tags Antiquities Act Joe Biden National Monument United States federal executive departments

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