July 11, 2013

The Bodie Hills: An American Treasure

Teddy Roosevelt, arguably the founder of America's conservation movement and one of our nation's greatest soldiers and leaders once remarked:

Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.


When I read this quote I think of the Bodie Hills. The Bodie Hills are an American treasure perched adjacent to California's Eastern Sierra. There is a lot of history in these hills. And a lot of wide open spaces, places to get lost in, places to find yourself in the rattle of the sagebrush in the wind.

William S. Bodey first visited and settled the area in 1859. He was in search of gold and not only did he find it but he also founded the mining camp which still stands today as California's official ghost town. As with most mining communities there were years of incredible boom -- and bust.

Despite its rough-and-tumble history, the Bodie Hills remain remarkably undeveloped, and feel free and wild as you hike a game trail or drive one of the few rough roads in the area. The land boasts an abundant cast of wildlife such as pronghorn antelope and mule deer, and provides critical habitat for the bi-state sage grouse, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Small streams flow out of the Bodie Hills into the East Walker River, one of the West's most famous blue ribbon trout streams, and historically were important spawning habitat for native (now Threatened) Lahontan cutthroat trout.

Areas of intact public lands such as the Bodie Hills, seemingly far from anywhere yet easy to get to, are vitally important for their scenic, recreational, historic and habitat values -- as a place of respite for veteran such as myself.

This is why Vet Voice Foundation became involved in the campaign to protect the Bodie Hills. This past weekend I had the opportunity to introduce these lands to a group of California veterans. After a visit to the legendary ghost town we enjoyed a day of fishing through our partnership with Trout Unlimited.

Lands such as the Bodie Hills are truly sacred to many of us who have served, as they offer us a chance to find a spiritual peace. Talk to many veterans who have served on the battlefield and they will tell you about their difficult journey to reintegrate upon their return home. Fishing, hiking and enjoying the natural wonder of lands such as these can be very beneficial for one's personal recovery from the horrors of modern warfare.

This is also why many veterans want to see these lands protected.

One way to ensure that places like the Bodie Hills retain their undeveloped character and continue to provide opportunities for quiet reflection and enjoyment for our veterans and all Americans is for President Obama to build upon Roosevelt's legacy and use the Antiquities Act to designate the Bodie Hills a national monument. With Congress at a historic impasse over special designations for public lands, the President should use his authority under the Antiquities Act -- passed in 1906 by a Republican congress and signed by President Roosevelt -- to protect the Bodie Hills for future generations. Sixteen presidents since Roosevelt have used this authority to help conserve and protect America's natural and cultural heritage.

Like Roosevelt, I am a veteran who believes in conservation. At this time of year, as we celebrate the birthday of our country, let us remember that conservation is patriotic. It is a bedrock principle of our democracy, for which so many men and women have sacrificed. Were TR with us today I have no doubt that he would be leading the charge to protect these lands. Very simply, it is the right thing to do.

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