MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — I served our country in the Navy during the Vietnam War era. 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 wartime to civilian life. These experiences also changed my life … so much so 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 we have to experience these wild species and wild places.

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

As chair of the Armed Services Committee, a decorated war veteran, U.S. Sen. John McCain, shepherded the National Defense Authorization Act for many years. For years, he ensured that the national defense spending bill 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 Sen. McCain has been focused on taking care of his health, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop has introduced three riders to weaken environmental protections by attaching these unrelated amendments to the national defense spending bill. The riders include preventing or removing protections for endangered species like the sage grouse, the lesser prairie chicken and 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 circumvent the laws made to protect our marine wildlife. And 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 lands without consulting the American people.

These riders are an attack not only on vulnerable wildlife and wild places, but also on the American democracy that I, and thousands of others, have served and fought to protect. Let’s follow Sen. McCain’s example. Let’s honor our veterans, our military and our 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 Americans find sacred.

As we celebrate America’s Independence Day, we must demand that our elected officials also remain independent and commit to representing the interests and values of us, their constituents, and not special interest groups who continue to bring their undue influence to Capitol Hill. Recent polls indicate 90 percent of American voters support strong enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, the landmark legislation, passed in 1973, that continues to provide common-sense, balanced solutions for government agencies, landowners and concerned citizens to conserve endangered wildlife and their habitats.

The National Defense Authorization Act will go to conference committee when Congress returns from recess. Contact Sen. Angus King today to thank him for his support for your values and urge him to ensure that a clean bill is reported to Congress, a bill that provides for the needs of our military and that is free from provisions that undermine our strong environmental laws. Then urge all members of Congress to do the same when they vote for final passage.

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