September 04, 2015

Op-ed: Are sage grouse a national security concern?

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is supposed to address the tools and resources needed to successfully defend our country. As a veteran, I know firsthand how important national security policy is to our armed forces. For veterans and the men and women of our armed forces, it is common sense that the NDAA should not be messed with.

Here’s another piece of common sense: the last thing that should be a part of our national security conversation is the greater sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird that ranchers, federal and state agencies, and sportsmen groups are working collaboratively to protect.

Nevertheless, some in the House of Representatives are delaying the bill meant to set our national security priorities at the behest of special interests. This group — which includes Nevada’s own Rep. Mark Amodei — is proposing an amendment to the NDAA on the sage grouse, which would derail years of work and millions of investment by westerners.

The sage grouse amendment isn’t just a terrible idea that will hurt local economies and outdoor way of life that veterans like me depend on. It’s a cynical and reckless intrusion into a policy that should focus solely on America’s security and our men and women in uniform.

That is why I recently traveled to Washington, D.C. alongside fellow veterans from across the West to deliver a simple message to lawmakers: Leave the sage-grouse out of the National Defense Authorization Act. We met with many of our nation’s leaders, urging them to get rid of any amendments to the bill that would jam the sage grouse into our national security policy.

Let’s just hope our voices were heard. We need to keep the national security conversation focused on our security. Our nation’s military has and will continue to coexist easily with the indigenous animal populations around our western training grounds. The Department of Defense has affirmed unequivocally and on the record that the sage grouse will not have meaningful impacts on our military readiness or training. Our military needs the NDAA to do what it has since its inception nearly 55 years ago: focus on supporting America’s armed service members and veterans.

As a military veteran in a family of veterans who served and defended our country for generations, it is important to me that we do not muddy the waters when it comes to national security. And as a westerner who knows how veterans in the American West depend on our local economies and outdoor way of life — both of which depend on the sagebrush habitat that the sage grouse and 350 other species call home — it is important to me that America’s leaders support westerners’ years of hard work. That is why it is so disappointing to see congressmen like Rep. Amodei cave to special interests and messing with NDAA.

The sage grouse has no place in the NDAA, or our national security conversation. It is time for Rep. Amodei, and others in the House to stop playing special interest politics with our national security and remove irrelevant amendments like this from NDAA.

Pamela Alfred is a United States Marine Veteran of the Vietnam War and a longtime Nevada resident.

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