December 26, 2014

Browns Canyon Is a Sanctuary for Our Veterans

Many soldiers coming off combat deployments seek the outdoors to recover from the trauma of war and reconnect with family and friends. Just a few hours west of Colorado Springs, lies a magnificently unique and special place called Browns Canyon. I can't think of a better place to recover than on a stretch of the Arkansas River renowned for its prized trout fishing and incredible whitewater rafting. Browns Canyon is the most popular rafting designation in the country along with great hiking, backpacking, hunting, fishing, snowshoeing, birding, climbing and horseback riding opportunities. There's truly something for every veteran and military family member, and has humbled me in its beauty.

As a veteran of the US Army who served as a Cavalry Scout and Sniper in Kosovo and Iraq, I know the critical role our outdoors play in our warriors' mental and physical health. I found peace of mind while fishing Colorado rivers and I've overcome physical injuries hiking with friends to view of the Collegiate Peaks from the backcountry trails. Browns Canyon offers a sanctuary for our veterans. The proximity of this landscape to military communities like Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy make it an ideal location for servicemembers and veterans to spend the day in the outdoors transitioning from their experience at war.

Yet, there is currently no guarantee of Browns Canyon staying this way. The future of this beautiful and replenishing landscape may face industrial mining and other detrimental uses as its future management remains uncertain. This could profoundly change the natural landscape and sacrifice this priceless community resource.

A poll by Vet Voice Foundation in 2013 shows that over 70 percent of Colorado veterans support the permanent protection of our outdoors by creating new public lands so future generations can discover wildlife and adventure in nature.

Legislation to protect Browns Canyon has stalled in Congress; both sides of the political aisle introduced bills which ultimately failed to move. With support to protect this special place stronger than ever, now is the time to move forward with a national monument designation for Browns Canyon. Veterans join a wide coalition from rafters to hunters which has only strengthened over recent years to ask President Obama to move ahead with this designation to protect wildlife habitat, and attract new visitors to enjoy the hunting, fishing and whitewater rafting which define Colorado's outdoor legacy.

That is why non-partisan Vet Voice Foundation joined an estimated 500 supporters who turned out for a meeting in Salida, Colorado to support Browns Canyon as the next national monument. Five military veterans had the opportunity to have their opinions heard by Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director Steve Ellis and Colorado Department of Natural Resources Deputy Director Bob Randall.

In addition to the veterans who spoke there were many more veterans, service members and military family members who attended and urged the President to use executive order, under the Antiquities Act, to protect Browns Canyon. Every president but one since the passing of the Antiquities Act of 1906, by war veteran and conservationist Teddy Roosevelt, has used the act to create national monuments.

There is an urgent need to protect this incredible area and Vet Voice Foundation is proud to speak up in support of protecting this place for those who have served to defend the lands we love. As members of the Armed Forces, we put skin in the game to make this country the best it can be, which includes defending the beautiful natural spaces we seek for relaxation, recreation and healing. The designation of Browns Canyon National Monument will preserve a sanctuary and establish a lasting legacy we all can enjoy.

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