December 27, 2014

Congress needs to fully fund protection of our public lands

Congress recently passed a bevy of public lands protection bills in the National Defense Authorization Act, including a bill to expand the Oregon Caves National Monument by more than 4,000 acres and protect the unique underground stream systems found beneath it. And while some might think it odd to put a public lands bill in the defense act, I find it entirely appropriate due to its great importance to Oregonians, especially veterans.

In the recent past, I traveled to Washington, D.C., with hundreds of other veterans to advocate in Congress for action to curb climate change, and for investments in clean energy and green jobs. We worked to raise awareness about the dangers climate change presents to military readiness and effectiveness around the world.

I am a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, proud to defend the American ideals of freedom and liberty. And there is nowhere else in the world where I feel more free and liberated than when visiting our public lands in Oregon.

Additionally, as a veterans’ advocate and graduate student in mental health, I see great value in holistic healing approaches offered by visiting nature. Hiking, fishing and hunting are only a few opportunities that nature enthusiasts from throughout Oregon will have when visiting the Oregon Caves. Respectful and low-impact tourist visits to these lands can be a good source of much-needed funding for Josephine County, where the monument is located.

Unfortunately, a very important public lands bill did not make it into the National Defense Authorization Act — reauthorization and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For 50 years, the fund has reinvested revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling into onshore conservation, including dozens of public lands in Oregon. It is the fund that helps implement America’s public lands system. And it is under threat of expiring in 2015. That would be a shame.

Congress also has a responsibility to permanently allocate the full $900 million per year dedicated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Siphoning off these revenues to the general fund is not fair and honest budgeting.

It is imperative that Congress work swiftly in 2015 to pass a bill to reauthorize and fully finance the fund, which supports public lands, veterans, and the next generations of outdoor recreationists.

Veterans like me are willing to step up and help. I have joined an organization called the Vet Voice Foundation, which believes in protecting America’s public lands. America is unique in the world in its robust system of public lands, and preservation of these areas is very important to the next generation of Americans, who should have the same opportunities as we did to enjoy the outdoors.

Additionally, the Vet Voice Foundation believes in multicultural outreach, so that more veterans such as those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury can benefit from natural healing journeys.

I appreciate our congressional delegation’s hard work to preserve our unique national treasures here in Oregon. Nature and the environment are taken very seriously by many in this region, and veterans are joining those ranks quickly as we fight to defend these priceless resources from mining and pillaging by big business. I am grateful to everyone who joins the ranks of our nation’s veterans in this fight against narrow, selfish business interests to protect lands such as the Oregon Caves Monument, a sacred and wildlife-filled region.

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