Credit: George Danby

I served our country in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. When I completed my service, I spent a year traveling and working around the country. I spent some time in national parks, national wildlife refuges and national wilderness areas. These encounters with wild places and wildlife helped renew my spirit, and certainly helped ease my transition from serving during war-time to civilian life.

These experiences changed my life so much that I set a goal and went on to serve the country as a park ranger with the National Park Service.

As a veteran, I agree with the sentiment that a country worth defending is a country worth preserving. We, as a country, have made the moral commitment to save wildlife and to have wide expanses of wilderness. Who are we to rob another living creature of its life and well-being? Every species deserves the freedom to live safe from harm, and we deserve the freedom to view these creatures in their natural habitats.

We must also be good caretakers of these resources to ensure that future generations have the same opportunities as us to experience these wild places and wild species.

This is why I find the attacks on protections to threatened and endangered species tucked into the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act so disrespectful. It is disrespectful to the wild lands that I served to protect, and disrespectful to other rural Americans who, like me, have grown up alongside these lands and have been molded by them and the wildlife found there. It is also disrespectful to America’s service men and women who deserve to have a defense bill passed quickly and efficiently, untainted with maneuvering for policies that Americans don’t believe in.

As the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a decorated war veteran, shepherded the National Defense Authorization Act for many years, ensuring that it remained a “clean bill” focused on its mission and was free of politicization. He continually placed the country’s national security ahead of partisan politics. He also resisted any efforts to place unrelated riders on a piece of legislation that is crucial to our country’s safety.

This year, while McCain has been focused on taking care of his health, Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah introduced three “riders” to weaken environmental protections by attaching these unrelated amendments to the House version of the defense bill. The riders include preventing protections for endangered species such as the sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken or removing protections for species such as the American burying beetle. It would also take away the people’s ability to challenge this in court.

Another rider would make it easier to get around the laws made to protect our marine wildlife. The third rider would eliminate the ability of the public to participate in any decisions about withdrawing our public lands. This threatens more than 800,000 acres of national wildlife refuge land without consulting the American people.

Though these riders were passed in the House bill, they were stripped from the Senate version. The defense bill will now go to conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions when Congress returns from recess. Contact Sen. Angus King, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, to urge him to ensure a clean bill that provides for our military’s needs and is free from provisions that undermine our strong environmental laws is reported to Congress when the conference committee convenes. Then urge all of Maine’s congressional representatives to do the same when they vote for the National Defense Authorization Act’s final passage.

This isn’t only an attack on vulnerable wildlife and wild places, but on the American democracy that I, and thousands of others, have served and fought to protect. Let’s follow McCain’s example. Let’s honor our veterans, military and citizens by keeping our country’s defense bill focused on defense, and not use it to weaken protection for our endangered wildlife and irreplaceable wild places that the majority of American find sacred.

Daniel Tandy, a military veteran who served as a park service ranger in Alaska, has been a business owner for more than 30 years in Bangor, where he and his wife raised their two children. He and his family now live on Mount Desert Island near Acadia National Park.

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