President Obama has made it official. Our newest national monument is Fort Ord -- more than 14,000 acres right on Monterey Bay where an estimated 1.5 million Army troops trained before the base shut down for good in 1994. (Fun fact you won't find in the official proclamation: Both Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix completed basic training there.)
Along with three cheers for the announcement, here are three of the many reasons Fort Ord was an excellent choice. First, the public lands that the president has permanently protected represent a diverse range of intact ecosystems in an area that's under increasing pressure from development. As President Obama's proclamation states: "It is one of the few remaining places in the world where large expanses of coastal scrub and live oak woodland and savanna habitat, mixed with rare vernal pools, exist in a contiguous, interconnected landscape." It's also home to 44 rare, threatened, or endangered species.
Second, Fort Ord already gets more than 100,000 annual visitors who come for the 86 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails. The national monument designation ensures that these public lands will be available for the enjoyment of generations to come, and it's certain to boost to the region's tourism and recreation economies.
Finally, as Sierra Club Military Family and Veterans Representative Stacy Bare has pointed out, Fort Ord's proximity to both a Veterans Transition Center and the Naval Postgraduate School means that, if managed correctly, it could become a model of outdoor recreation and cooperation for the Department of Defense, Department of Interior, and Department of Veterans Affairs. Getting outdoors is good for everyone, but it can be especially helpful for vets who are dealing with stress and other issues. It's fitting that Fort Ord could help provide those healing experiences.
Fort Ord is the second monument declaration to come from President Obama. Earlier this year, he got off to a good, if modest, start when he designated Virginia's Fort Monroe. Following up with Fort Ord, though, the president has stepped up his game and given us a major addition to our national heritage. He deserves all our thanks.
But why stop when you're just getting warmed up? Dozens of strong candidates for national monument designation are ready for protection. I've already written about New Mexico's Organ Mountains and the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument adjacent to Utah's Canyonlands National Park. New Mexico also has Otero Mesa, which is the largest and wildest expanse of desert grasslands left on U.S. public lands.
Like Fort Ord, all of these public lands deserve to be permanently protected for the benefit of their true owners: the American people. Otherwise, it's only a matter of time before they fall prey to the greed of those who would prefer to drill, mine, or develop them for profit. So let's send the president a message: "Thank you for Fort Ord -- and for working to protect still more of our most special places."