January 27, 2012

Serving at home as well as abroad

Dear Editor:

As a veteran I believe that service to one's country is paramount - it is one of the most important ideas that we have in our democracy. But, service to one's country does not always mean wearing a uniform and serving overseas. It is also about serving at home.

Over the course of the past year, Washington politicians have threatened places like the Bodie Hills with legislation that could have had lasting consequences. Currently, the Bodie Hills are wild and free, with small wet meadows, free flowing streams and wildlife. This is how we want to keep it, in the natural state it's in today. But mining interests, who'd be granted easier access if the legislation passes, threaten to change the Bodie Hills forever.

There is a lot of history behind these hills. Since William S. Bodey came to these lands in 1859, the area has largely been defined by mining. Bodey came here in search of gold; he found it and founded the mining camp that is now California's official ghost town (and a big tourist attraction). Despite years of boom and bust activity, the majority of land around Bodie remains untouched from previous mining excavations. Keeping the historical and cultural values of Bodie and the surrounding landscape intact is vital.

As I previously mentioned, multiple pieces of legislation have been introduced in congress this past year that could threaten lands such as Bodie. One of those bills is H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011. This bill would release our public lands from the protections congress has afforded them and open them up to operations such as mining and drilling. This legislation is callous and radical. As citizens we must be good stewards of this land and speak out against legislation such as this.

Stewardship. What does this mean? In life, we are stewards to many things. My time in the Army taught me many of these lessons. I was a steward to the soldiers that I served with as well as our great nation. Today, being a good steward means using my voice to speak out on the threats that could be posed to special places such as the Bodie Hills. My voice counts in its protection and so does yours.

In thinking of my own military service, I am also reminded of the thousands of troops stationed at bases close by such as 29 Palms, Edwards Air Force Base, Ft. Irwin and Nellis Air Force Base. Many of the men and women stationed at these installations are returning from grueling tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is lands such as these here in Mono County that can serve as a place of healing. These lands can serve as a means of reintegration into our society for many of these brave souls who sometimes carry wounds that are not visible to the human eye. These lands offer a spiritual connection to life.

Finally, wild places such as the Bodie Hills are bigger than just those that live in the area. This region continuously attracts thousands of visitors from all over California and the U.S. each year. They come to experience this historic landmark. They come to breathe the air of the Eastern Sierra and witness nature in its original state. This also means revenue for local governments and small businesses in the area. Conservation of this precious land is also good for this region economically.

We need to remember why it is important to protect this land. Not only are we protecting the environment we live in, we are also sustaining our economy. I want to see this land preserved for future generations and our veterans. This is why I feel my service is still important today.

L. Mark Starr
Los Angeles

Mark Starr is a Los Angeles resident and Iraq war veteran. As program director for Vet Voice Foundation, Mark is working to raise awareness of public lands conservation issues, including seeking long-term protection for the Bodie Hills. He is bringing a group of veterans to the Eastern Sierra in March for recreation and renewal on Mono County's public lands. For more information, visit vetvoicefoundation.org.



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