On June 26, such a bill was introduced that would limit the president’s authority to designate new national monuments, and was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. Essentially the bill would require both congressional approval and NEPA review of all national monument designations by the President. This is a real and potent attempt to begin nothing less than the dismantling of President Theodore Roosevelt’s great conservation legacy, and is a direct attack on one of our best tools to preserve America’s heritage and the story of our nation.
The cadre of distinguished retired military leaders who thanked the president for his Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks action urge members of Congress to reject any efforts whatsoever to curtail the ability of communities to ensure their public lands and our American history and heritage is protected.
As a former commander of Fort Huachuca, a large military installation within sight of these beautiful peaks, and the father of two daughters that each spent four years attending New Mexico State University in nearly Las Cruces, the area is particularly important to me personally. Nevertheless, you may be asking yourself, why would so many other retired generals care so much about new national monuments?
We care because we believe that our military is not only charged with defending American values, it is also charged with defending the sacred public lands that help make up the American character. In this sense, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is filled with such character.
It has been at the crossroads of America even before the United States existed. From American Indian pathways and petroglyphs, to the Camino Real and the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, the area has been the site of peoples passing through for thousands of years. And when peoples pass through a place, they leave behind a treasure trove of history and culture.
In the mid-20th century, the region now protected was also a critical training ground for U.S. pilots. To this day, you can visit the Deming Aerial Bombing Targets within the new monument, where Army Air Corps pilots trained during World War II using Norden bombsight technology. These bombing targets remain as tributes to the sacrifices made by the military personnel of previous generations.
Ultimately there is no good reason for anyone to be negative about this new national monument. Studies have repeatedly shown that national monument designations lead to economic stimulation in nearby communities. But for former military personnel like us, what is most exciting about the new national monument is the preservation of recreation, historical, and cultural resources that our servicemen and women have long fought to protect.
And for that we should all be grateful.
Retired Lieutenant General Clarence “Mac” McKnight served 35 years in the U.S. Army, including a tour as Commanding General of Fort Huachuca in southeast Arizona, about 15 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border.