House Republicans, this month, are seeking to curtail the president's ability to protect our nation's rich military and cultural heritage and limit his ability to use the Antiquities Act to conserve national parks and monuments. The "Preventing New Parks" bill (H.R. 1459) is being voted on by the full House this week.
When did protecting our national heritage become a partisan issue?
It wasn't a partisan issue just one year ago, this week, when President Obama's protected the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, in Ohio. When Congress failed to pass bipartisan legislation conserving Colonel Young's historic home in Wilberforce, Ohio, President Obama used his pen and executive authority to honor this African-American leader and pioneer in U.S. Military history.
Born into slavery and only the third African-American to graduate from West Point, Colonel Young became the highest-ranking African-American officer in the U.S. Army. Among his many accomplishments in service to our nation, Colonel Young was the first African-American to serve as a national park superintendent. Fitting then, that his home is now part of our National Park System.
Colonel Young's tremendous academic achievements and selfless acts of valor in the military have long been treasured by Ohioans, and now this national monument will further honor his rich legacy and preserve it for future generations across the country to enjoy.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said this at the time, cheering President Obama's designation. He had co-sponsored legislation to protect Young's legacy.
Said Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH-10):
The president has rightly taken the step of officially designating the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument here in Southwest Ohio. Colonel Charles Young stands out as a shining example of the dedication, service and commitment of the Buffalo Soldiers the United States and world history.
Congressman Turner had supported a National Parks Study Act to identify and recognize the contributions of Colonel Young.
Designation of public lands sure isn't a partisan issue among voters. According to a recent survey conducted by a bipartisan polling team for the Vet Voice Foundation, three-quarters of post-9/11 veterans support increased protections for public lands by designating additional wilderness, monuments and parks.
Veterans across party lines support conservation of our cultural and natural heritage because we know this is part of our legacy to the next generation. Personally, I want to see our public lands protected because of their critical role in my mental and physical health. Access to public lands like Pike National Forest in Colorado helped me to survive my transition to civilian life from being a U.S. Army sniper.
Here in Colorado, the proximity of military bases like Ft. Carson and the Air Force Academy to nearly parks and public lands allows service members and veterans to gain easy access to the outdoors, heal from the trauma of war and renew bonds with family members after long deployments.
Why would House Republicans seek to undermine those opportunities for America's service men and women, and our families? Conservation -- like support for military budgets, veterans' benefits, and other critical issues -- need not be partisan.
I join my colleagues in the Vet Voice Foundation and veterans across the country in urging the Congress to come to its senses and focus instead on opportunities to work with the White House to honor and celebrate our nation's heroes.
One immediate suggestion: protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, in Dona Ana County, New Mexico. Conserving these public lands would ensure protection of numerous historic sites, including World War II Deming Bombing targets, and the region's breathtaking natural beauty.