For countless Americans around the country, access to the outdoors represents freedom. We are born as owners of our national parks, national monuments and other protected public lands. The ability to recreate in our public lands and waters is one of the great gifts that all Americans are granted, as they are managed by our government for our benefit.
As a veteran who served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps, I fought to defend America and her ideals, including the preservation of freedom for our citizens.
I join my fellow veterans across the country to speak out in vehement disagreement with President Trump for his attack on our freedom to enjoy our protected public lands. In December, Trump and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke (another veteran), traveled to Utah and announced the biggest reduction in protected lands in American history, slashing the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. As a Utahn, I know these landscapes firsthand and have climbed Bears Ears’ sandstone spires at Indian Creek. This attack on our monuments is misguided and disappointing, and must stop.
National monuments have for over 100 years protected our wild landscapes and most important historic sites, including sites that commemorated our military history. This attack on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante is an attack on all our monuments, on our confidence that our treasured places will indeed remain protected in perpetuity.
As a climber and backpacker who also served in our armed forces, including a deployment in Afghanistan, protecting our natural heritage and outdoor access is personal to me. I joined the Marines to fight for the best of America, and to help the country flourish. Our protected public lands, and our country’s conservation history, are things about America worth protecting. I first fell in love with the wild Utah landscapes as a young boy visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks near Moab, and today backpacking and climbing in Indian Creek, part of the Bears Ears landscape, remains close to my heart.
Furthermore, my grandmother’s part-Native American heritage has helped me value the importance of keeping public lands in public hands in a deeper way. Bears Ears National Monument was protected thanks to the leadership of local tribes, whose history is intertwined with the landscape and consider it sacred. These lands should be protected for all of us, including those who were here before us. Eliminating protections for these places for dubious short-term gain by special interests is an insult to the greater public, including the tribes of the Colorado Plateau.
No one needs to lecture Zinke on public service. It’s an honor to have a fellow veteran and fellow Marine at that at the helm of the Department of Interior. His commitment to his country is unquestionable and we are grateful for his service. This is, in part, why his actions are so disappointing.
Commander Zinke should know as well as anyone, as an outdoorsman and veteran, the value of protecting land and ensuring that outdoor access is preserved, not limited. His alignment with special interests looking to exploit these wild Utah landscapes for monetary gain is short-sighted and reprehensible.
Last year, Zinke launched the monument reduction process by first initiating a “review” of 27 different monuments protected since 1996. His recommendations based on this review included the shrinkage of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. In addition to cutting back these great American treasures, Zinke has encouraged Trump to shrink two more monuments: Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. This would be a deeply misguided decision to continue to undermine our conservation lands.
It is a new year, and members of the House of Representatives and Senate have returned to Washington for the 2nd session of the 115th Congress. My hope, along with many other veterans who have relied on our national monuments and other protected public lands for peace, solitude, recreation and more, is that the president and Zinke will stop attacking our outdoor heritage. Our leaders should listen to its citizens, including those who fought for this country in defense of its fellow Americans’ liberties. That includes keeping our monuments open and accessible to all. The attacks on our monuments must stop.
Justin Krier is a veteran from Utah who served in Afghanistan with the Marine Corps. He lives in Salt Lake City, is an avid rock climber and has worked for Patagonia. He currently is a student at University of Utah double majoring in astrophysics and geology.