By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
At the invitation of veterans, businesses, and the local community, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last Friday paid a visit to Fort Ord, a former military base located on the Monterey Peninsula near Salinas, California. At a listening session to discuss the future of the site, local activists called on the secretary and President Obama to designate the Bureau of Land Management-managed lands at Fort Ord as a new national monument using the president’s executive authority under the Antiquities Act.
Local support for a new Fort Ord national monument is undisputed. As the Monterey Herald reported:
Before he left to catch a plane, Salazar asked how many in the room wanted ‘this land protected and preserved in perpetuity.’
He was met with resounding applause.
Speakers at Friday’s public hearing discussed in detail how the former Fort Ord Military Installation played a key role in our country’s history. From its founding in 1917 until its formal closure in 1994, the fort served as a training center and staging area for troops, and thus was home to 1.5 million soldiers fighting in every war from World War I to Desert Storm. The Vet Voice Foundation and a group of California veterans noted in a letter to Secretary Salazar that:
A National Monument designation will serve as a reminder of the triumphs and sacrifices that have shaped the United States and honor the legacy of the millions of soldiers who trained on these lands.
In addition to its place in military history, the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management around Fort Ord are some of the finest for outdoor recreation in the area. The fort’s 86 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback trails on more than 7,000 acres are enjoyed by 100,000 visitors every year, who spend money in and around the area creating economic impacts. National monument status would likely increase visitation and associated economic impacts; a case study on protecting Fort Ord’s public lands authored by economic consulting group Headwaters Economics found that:
The counties in the West with protected public lands, like national monuments, have been more successful at attracting fast-growing economic sectors and as a result grow more quickly, on average, than counties without protected public lands.
The president has the authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate places of “historic or scientific interest” as national monuments. Unfortunately, the 112th Congress has thus far failed to pass any legislation that would protect public lands and provide more recreation and economic opportunities. Local supporters of a national monument at Fort Ord made it clear last week that the president can’t wait for Congress—now is the time to make sure that Fort Ord and its surrounding public lands are protected for all Americans to enjoy.
As Salazar said Friday: “Our best places in the United States…are those where you have the kind of united community support that I see here today.”