Montana Voices: Veteran questions Zinke’s “attack on the Antiquities Act”

Michael Jarvenic

“What greater grief than the loss of one’s native land.”

— Euripides

While shivering in a foxhole in western Kuwait; working in some very dangerous areas in Mali and Nigeria; or riding through IED country in Afghanistan, I was fortified by the thought that I would someday return home to my precious Montana and those wild and miraculous places it contains. Yet, that sustenance provided by our hallowed wildlands, which allowed me to endure austere conditions and combat adversity, is under a monstrous attack by the very people tasked with protecting those places.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s proposals to shrivel multiple national monuments is nothing more than caving to the nefarious interests of the extractive resource industry — an industry that has been a consistent foe of wildlife and wildlands. Teddy Roosevelt, our towering icon of conservation, responded characteristically to the unbridled exploitation of our natural resources (by robber barons) with the institution of his “Square Deal,” that consisted of three parts: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.

Thus, in 1906, Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act to protect those lands deemed priceless and unique, represented most recently by the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah. Teddy famously said: “The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.”

Yes, Secretary Zinke, the Antiquities Act explicitly confers on presidents the authority to “declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the government of the United States to be national monuments.” At no point does it mention exploitation and ruination or what my good friend, Blackfeet troubadour Jack Gladstone calls, the “destruction of the ecological infrastructure.”

The dismemberment of Bears Ears exemplifies the wicked intent of the Trump administration — facilitated by Zinke — to eviscerate these sacred, protected lands for mining and drilling by as much as 85 percent. Scandalously, this reduction will almost exclusively benefit extractive resource industries that covet the monument’s mineral assets. In particular, Energy Fuels Resources petitioned the Interior Department to reduce the size of Bears Ears over concern that it is a threat to its uranium mill, which is adjacent to the monument. (Incidentally, uranium prices currently average between $20 and $25 per pound and must approach $40 to $50 to be profitable.)

Zinke, who gazes in the mirror and perceives himself as a latter-day Teddy Roosevelt, must understand that his behavior is the antithesis of the mind and soul of Teddy. If alive today, Roosevelt would be aghast, angry, and merciless in his condemnation of Zinke as a tarnished utensil of the Trump administration. He would not mince words. He would shout terms like “misconduct” and “sinister influence.” He would roar to the electorate that degrading our natural wonders was “unprincipled” and “vandalism.”

Is this the way Zinke wants to be remembered? Zinke as the “great desecrator” and the self-absorbed footman to the corporate giants? This is not a legacy I would covet, nor would I, as a veteran, want my name associated with this sacrilege perpetrated in the name of greed and industrial self-indulgence.

As a soldier who has dedicated three quarters of his life in service to the ideals, government, and people of the United States of America, I must hang my head and resist weeping for the fate of our irreplaceable landscape — and the deplorable actions of this administration.

Michael Jarnevic is a retired U.S, Army sergeant major with 42 years of service in both the USMC (active and reserve) and Army Special Forces (active, guard, and reserve).  He is a University of Montana graduate and former instructor, now writing from his home outside of Missoula.