To Truly Make America Great Again, We Must Preserve Our Great National Monuments

Michael G. Mathis | Retired Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy

This month, over one thousand retired and former soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen signed a letter calling on President Trump to protect our national monuments, just as they are. My fellow veterans and I urge the President to ignore Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendations for shrinking them.

These monuments are the places where our proud American history—of our continent and our people—are preserved. These are the places where generations have ventured to experience the open skies, rolling prairies, rugged mountains, raging rivers and soaring trees. These are the places where we can connect with our friends, our families and our past.

As we wrote President Trump, “The value of our public lands has been woven into the songs and stories of our nation since its founding, and we need your help to do our duty to preserve that greatness in honor of all who came before us and of the benefit of all who will come after.” We who served in the armed forces pledged to uphold The Constitution and the rights and freedoms which accompany it. Emblematic of these freedoms is a uniquely American birthright — the natural bounty we find on our public lands. We are all owners of this remarkable estate: public lands which house our national parks, our wilderness areas, our wild and scenic rivers, but especially our national monuments.

The creation of our national monuments is largely due to the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt — a staunch conservative dedicated to conservation. It was Roosevelt who signed into law the Antiquities Act which led to the protection of some of America’s most significant natural landscapes. Among these are the Grand Canyon, Montezuma Castle, Petrified Forest, Tonto and Tumacacori in Arizona, California’s Muir Woods, and Washington’s Mount Olympus.

President Trump and Secretary Zinke have stated that they wish to honor and uphold the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt. What greater way to do so than by protecting these monuments? Ignoring the recommendations to reduce acreage of Nevada’s Gold Butte, Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, and New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte national monuments would truly make Trump the inheritor of the Teddy Roosevelt legacy.

Tragically, these lands are being opened up for corporate purchase and mining and drilling. The rolling hills could soon be closed off to Americans nationwide. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made his, well intentioned, recommendations based on bad information supplied by lobbyists and private interest groups — but what could that mean for our land?

Our nation’s monuments are as important as the conservatories of natural, historic, and scientific values they contain — they are symbols of the freedoms each and every American are born into, and which my fellow service members swore and oftentimes fought to protect.

National monuments safeguard the history of our continent, from the archaeological sites left behind by its earliest human inhabitants to the more recent pioneers and explorers that expanded the boundaries of our nation, and the wildlife who call its deserts, dry lakes, mountains, meadows, forests, and canyons home.

It is our shared American heritage. A natural legacy which we inherited, and that we are duty bound to pass to future generations. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

President Trump: To truly Make America Great Again, we must preserve what already makes America great. Safeguard our heritage found in these national monuments. The men and women you lead and the citizens you serve will thank you now and for generations to come.

Michael G. Mathis is a retired Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy.


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