July 13, 2013

Protecting Colorado's public lands, our American heritage

As a Army veteran, Independence Day is always special for me. This year, my family went to a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater before heading north to camp alongside the Cache la Poudre River in Roosevelt National Forest. We hiked, fished and photographed the scenery. And like every year after the Fourth of July weekend is over, we returned home where the American flag hangs outside our house.

“Old Glory” is a patriotic symbol that represents what all of us American soldiers fought to protect – and what our families hope to provide and pass along to the next generation. Our national parks, monuments and public lands — like the flag — are is a uniquely American idea. From the towering sequoias in California to the sacred America Indian site at Chimney Rock National Monument here in Colorado, these are the places that reflect our heritage.

Yet there is much to do to defend our national treasures. Over the last four years, the White House has leased 2 1/2 times more acres of public lands for oil and gas development than it has protected for the public. Legislation under consideration in Congress would sell off public lands and rollback protections.

I joined several veterans in Washington, D.C., this past month to remind the White House and Congress of our shared responsibility as stewards of our natural and cultural heritage.

Like so many Americans, veterans count on our public lands for fishing, hiking, camping and hunting with our families. Growing up in Colorado, I’ve spent many family vacations four-wheeling all over this great state of ours – but the landscapes are also the inspiration for my art. I feel fortunate to be from here. It’s shaped me into the person I am today.

Many veterans turn to the outdoors as a source of relief from the physical and emotional stress of combat. For us, national parks, monuments and public lands are especially important for our recovery and assimilation back into civilian life.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is one critical program that helps to preserve our public lands using a small portion of fees levied on oil and gas companies drilling offshore. Protecting these public lands boosts local economies by luring tourists and providing access for sportsmen to prized hunting and fishing areas. And to all outdoor enthusiasts, Roxborough State Park is just one popular LWCF funded site that I enjoy hiking and mountain biking frequently.

Browns Canyon of the Arkansas River, a beautiful river canyon near Salida, is another special place worthy of protection for its fishing, rafting and hiking opportunities. There is tremendous local support among veterans, business community and outdoor enthusiasts for protecting this area as a national monument.

Despite the obvious value of LWCF, Congress has diverted the majority of these funds for other purposes nearly every year. When I visited Sen. Mark Udall and Sen. Michael Bennet’s Washington offices last month, I urged them to support full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as reiterated the groundswell of support for Browns Canyon National Monument.

Our nation has abundant oil. gas, wind and solar energy resources – protecting our outdoor heritage need not come at the expense of our energy independence. I urge the White House and Congress to balance the scales of development and conservation and ensure our American heritage, including places like Browns Canyon, is protected for our children and grandchildren. Like the flag, that too, would be a symbol of our patriotism: ensuring the best of our nation is conserved for the future.

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