May 09, 2013

Conservation Is Patriotic

The California desert is a place of great beauty and mystery. It is clearly an area that one can retreat to in an effort to find the peace that so many of us seek in escaping from the stressors of our daily lives. As a veteran who served in Iraq, the desert brings back many memories for me and often serves to help place these into greater perspective.

This is a place where I, along with many veterans, go to heal, recuperate and seek solace.

Recently, a group of veterans representing the Vet Voice Foundation had an opportunity to explore this natural wonder. Some members of this group, like me, are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. One might think they would rather spend their weekend someplace other than the desert. Think again. Everyone was at home and at peace.

Over the course of our weekend tour, our group had several stops. Clearly, my fellow veterans were amazed with what they were seeing, from the Whitewater Canyon Preserve near Palm Springs to our drive along Route 66 with an accompanying visit to Amboy Crater, located in the heart of the Mojave Desert.

It is also important to note that these lands represent a very fragile ecosystem that needs our protection. The veterans on our tour understand this. Protection of our nation's lands such as the California desert is clearly a patriotic duty.

As veterans we fought for these lands overseas, and now today we see it as our duty to defend them at home. It really is that simple. It is as American as Apple Pie. Conservation is patriotic.

In recent years, we have seen attempts to protect these lands through legislation. A few years ago, Senator Dianne Feinstein released a very ambitious piece of legislation, The California Desert Protection Act of 2010. This bill, which was truly visionary, would facilitate responsible renewable energy development as well as strengthen the local economies through the creation of two new national monuments. Unfortunately, with a gridlocked Congress the bill never gained any traction.

As we await new legislation from Senator Feinstein that would protect many of the gems of the California desert, it is important that we remember a few things.

First, as veterans we clearly understand the importance of renewable energy development and how it relates to our national security. Climate change is a threat to mankind and renewable energy will help wean our economy off of fossil fuels. California is the hub for many new large scale solar and wind projects. With this development we must also remember that our natural landscapes require our protection. There is an ample amount of land in the California desert that is fit for renewable energy development. We should ensure that only lands that have been desecrated and are near existing energy transmission lines be considered for these projects.

Second, we have an incredible economic opportunity at hand. By protecting these lands through the new designation of two new national monuments, wilderness areas, and wild and scenic rivers, which Senator Feinstein's bill called for, we will undoubtedly see more tourism and dollars injected into the area.

Last, as we speak of protection of our natural lands we must also note the importance of fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF is a federal program that was established to provide grants to federal, state and local governments for the protection and improvement of our public lands. To date, the program has safeguarded over five million acres and contributed to the development of local parks, trails, and other recreational facilities in nearly every county in our nation. We need to thank President Obama for his advocacy on this issue as his fiscal year 2014 budget calls for $600 billion in funding for the program.

In addition, newly elected California Congressman Raul Ruiz is also supportive of robust funding for LWCF. With the vast majority of his district lying within the California desert, it is clear that he is aware of the need to protect these public lands. Congressman Ruiz gets it. Veterans have taken notice and extend our gratitude.

In closing, veterans are taking the lead in promoting responsible conservation policies and smart growth of renewable energy on our public lands. We ask that you join us in this effort. Our beloved California desert cannot protect itself.

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