One of the most basic responsibilities of Congress is military preparedness, which includes funding each year through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), just signed into law for 2019 by the president. As a Vietnam War veteran and former Navy SEAL, I expect our congressional representatives to honorably fulfill this duty.
Yet, some in Congress nearly knocked the NDAA off the tracks this year by attempting to attach unrelated and divisive amendments to this must-pass legislation. Unfortunately, my representative, Rob Bishop, R-Utah, was at the front of the line (as he has been year after year) trying to surreptitiously insert an amendment to NDAA that would hamper protections for the imperiled sage grouse.
Bishop claimed the actions needed to conserve the greater sage grouse would negatively impact our military readiness, but veterans who have prepared for military operations and the current head of military installations at the Pentagon disagreed. Thankfully, his own congressional colleagues also disagreed and Bishop’s rider was not included in the final bill.
But, unless this shameful, opportunistic behavior is stopped there will be a next time.
Aside from their irrelevance to military matters, as a professional wildlife conservationist for the decades since I finished my Navy service, I can tell you that Bishop’s continuing attacks undermine an unprecedented collaborative effort in which federal agencies worked with states and private parties to protect millions of acres of habitat across 10 Western states occupied by the sage grouse. Conservationists, sportsmen, ranchers, business owners, elected officials, oil and gas industry representatives all got together with state and federal officials and struck a deal to save the sage-grouse while averting the need for listing the bird.
This year’s NDAA is known, rightfully so, as the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.” Sen. McCain’s recent passing is a great loss for all Americans. The man built a solid legacy defending American values, fiscal responsibility and decency. He lived his values and his beliefs in full measure, and no matter what your political persuasion, he was unquestionably a true hero and patriot. The senator was a friend for whom I’ve had the privilege of being his boatman several times on Colorado River trips through the Grand Canyon.
Relative to NDAA, he fought hard over the years to keep unrelated riders such as Bishop’s off this must pass legislation. In December 2016, McCain spoke out unequivocally about provisions regarding the greater sage-grouse saying that, “It has nothing to do with defense, because the law is no Endangered Species Act can interfere with the operations and trainings at military bases. So it had no connection to NDAA.”
I, as well, cannot say it more emphatically. A sage grouse amendment inserted for personal gain did not and does not belong on this bill. Not now. Not next year. Not ever. Especially this year, since it would have tarnished a well-earned tribute to a man like John McCain whose devotion to country represents patriotism and selflessness in their finest manifestation.
Henceforth, Bishop should listen to the heir apparent chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jim Inhofe, who was quoted as saying, “I grant you it’s probably not the most appropriate place to have it on there. You can give an argument about training areas — there is a national defense aspect to it — but nobody buys it.”
We tap into our highest selves when we preserve a healthy balance among humans and the animals and plants with which we cohabit, and insist upon using the best available science and adhering to our democratic values in order to protect and restore wild nature. The sage grouse plans negotiated by western governors, federal and state agencies and stakeholders across the region found that balance, and avoided the need to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
As a native westerner and avid outdoorsman, my hope is that if enough people get sufficiently concerned by cynical efforts to ignore what needs to be done to co-exist with other species, we can stop debating and start getting to work. In any event, any debate about endangered species should never be able to dishonor our men and women who serve and threaten the funding that military families rely on. That’s just plain poor character and a shameful lack of integrity.
Kim Crumbo served four years with the Navy’s SEAL Team One, completing two combat deployments in Vietnam. He served 20 years with the National Park Service in the Grand Canyon, first as a river ranger and later as wilderness coordinator. He also worked as a river guide for a decade, and as Utah Wilderness Coordinator for the Sierra Club for two years. Since 2000, Kim has worked in various roles with the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.