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Veterans: a New Cadre of Monument Men (and Women) for America’s Treasures? | Commentary

George Clooney’s new movie tells the true story of “The Monuments Men” — a little-known group of art and historic preservationists who trained and traveled with the U.S. Army intent on saving masterpieces from Adolf Hitler. They worked to find and return thousands of priceless treasures stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners for the benefit of future generations. They risked their lives to protect the world’s greatest achievements.

America’s greatest masterpieces are arguably our national parks, monuments and public lands. From the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone to the Great Smoky Mountains and the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, our national parks and monuments are top destinations for Americans and their families as well as travelers from across the globe.

When our national treasures were shuttered in October due to the government shutdown, Americans got a sense of what it would be like to be without the national parks and public lands where so many generations of Americans have experienced a sense of awe and pride in our country.

With this experience so fresh in our collective minds, voters are turning to Congress and the White House to act accordingly to protect these treasures for the next generation — not only from another government shutdown but from ongoing neglect or misuse.

Among those most concerned about protecting America’s masterpieces are today’s veterans. In our jointly designed and administered poll of post-9/11 veterans in seven Western states for the nonprofit Vet Voice Foundation, an overwhelming 91 percent agree it is important to protect public lands and national parks for our children.

In addition, 87 percent of polled veterans agree it is important to them that they spend recreational time outdoors for mental and emotional renewal. A majority also reports visiting parks and public lands with family in the past year.

Not only do they use public lands, but veterans report also wanting to see Congress and the White House put policies in place that protect these places

While veterans traditionally respond strongly in favor of America’s energy independence, they clearly support a balanced approach to energy development and conservation of public lands. Two-thirds (66 percent) favor a proposal that says the federal government must weigh the impact of energy development leases on local recreation and wildlife habitat; only 36 percent agree that the federal government should be granting more leases to energy companies for energy exploration on federal lands than it currently does.

A 75 percent majority favor the federal government protecting public lands by designating them as national parks, monuments or wilderness, including 56 percent who strongly favor it. In a brief mention in the State of the Union, the president made it clear he, too, supports this course of action.

Significantly, these poll results are not a partisan response: the responding veterans self-identified as 45 percent Republican, 24 percent Democrat and 20 percent independent.

In light of the shutdown, preserving our parks, monuments and public lands for the future may require a new cadre of Monuments Men — and women. Can America’s veterans encourage our elected officials in Congress and the White House to see that our shared heritage of stunning natural “masterpieces” is preserved for generations to come?

As a Vet Voice Foundation volunteer says: “Conservation is patriotic and as veterans, it is our duty to ensure that our public lands are protected and preserved for future generations. This is our heritage, our culture as Americans.”

Sounds like the makings for another Clooney movie.

Celinda Lake is president of Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling firm. Christine Matthews is president of Bellwether Research, a Republican polling firm based in Alexandria, Va., and a partner with Burning Glass Consulting, a firm specializing in female voters.

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