January 21, 2015

Protecting the Lands We Swore to Defend

As service members, we joined the military to ensure that our distinctive American identity remains robust. That identity includes the iconic landscapes that Americans can enjoy on our public lands, from sea to shining sea. That's why Vet Voice Foundation applauds the inclusion of Title 30 in the Carl Levin and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (NDAA). Not only does this bill serve to improve our nation's national security, but it also protects the lands we love -- diverse and extensive public lands, available to all Americans, which stretch across the United States and honor our country's rich history and majestic natural beauty.

Included in Title 30 are provisions that will educate future generation on military history, through establishing or expanding protections for battlefields, heritage areas, and other notable locations from the Revolutionary War through World War I. The significance of protecting sites like the Manhattan Project and Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad also raises awareness of civilian efforts during wartime, and honors our country's unique past.

In addition, Title 30 protects nearly 245,000 acres of wilderness in five states, and provides more than 400,000 acres of other designations that safeguard lands in Colorado, Alaska and Montana from resource extraction. It also provides for the withdrawal of another 400,000-plus acres from mining and energy development, and it designates over one hundred miles of Wild and Scenic River protection. In addition, the legislation establishes the 22,650-acre Tule Springs National Monument in Las Vegas, NV.

The extraordinary wilderness and public lands protected in this remarkable bill will ensure veterans have outdoor sanctuaries to help heal from the trauma of war and reconnect with family and friends after long deployment. Unspoiled, undeveloped, natural areas are vital to many veterans who require the solitude of our public lands for recreation and recovery. Now we have a chance to add places like Hermosa Creek in Colorado, Columbine Hondo in New Mexico, and Montana's Rocky Mountain Front to that honor roll of special, protected places.

The addition of the National Memorial for Desert Storm and Desert Shield Veterans is an honor long overdue for the brave men and women who served in the Middle East during that conflict.

Critics have said that the single most important job of the federal government is to "defend America from all enemies, foreign and domestic." We'd respectfully add something to that responsibility: taking care of those who defended America when they return home. Title 30 takes that charge seriously: providing protection for extraordinary places that offer veterans a quiet place for refuge and rehabilitation, while honoring the promise that our country so often makes to future generations: we will leave this place in better shape than we found it.

Vet Voice Foundation supports these natural resource additions to the NDAA. That future generations will now be able to learn from and enjoy these public lands is a tribute to the men and women who wore the uniform to protect them.

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