By Mark West
Veterans of our nation’s armed forces cherish our public lands and great outdoor spaces. From the coast to the desert and beyond, veterans from all walks of life, ages, branches of service and political ideologies find common ground in our love for America’s public lands. In our public lands, we see the embodiment of the freedoms that we took a vow to protect when we committed to serve our country.
As 24-year U.S. Navy veteran, I believe in defending the beauty of America. That’s why I first enlisted after graduating high school in 1986, and decided to become an enlisted officer a decade later. And after being homeported in San Diego on the USS Germantown, my love for the ocean drew me to Imperial Beach where my family and I decided to settle.
I believe deeply that our public lands and waters—and the common values they represent—are worth fighting for. And thanks to strong allies in Washington, D.C. representing the greater San Diego and North Coast region, we are lucky to have champions at our side like Reps. Scott Peters, Susan Davis, Juan Vargas, and the newest member of the delegation, Mike Levin.
During his short time in our nation’s capitol, freshman Rep. Levin has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to both veterans and the preservation of public lands. In June, he cast one of his most important votes yet — to advance legislation known as H.R. 3195 that provides full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The LWCF is arguably our country’s single most important conservation and recreation program, responsible for protecting parks, trails, wildlife refuges and outdoor-recreation areas at the federal, state, and local level. For more than 50 years, the LWCF has provided critical funding for land and water conservation projects, access to recreational activities like hunting and fishing, and the continued preservation of our nation’s iconic and historic landmarks.
California has received approximately $2.5 billion in LWCF funding over the past five decades. This funding has gone towards protecting natural treasures across the state from the beaches of San Clemente, San Onofre, and Carslbad to the Lake Tahoe Basin, California Desert, the San Diego and Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuges, and the national forests of the Sierra Nevadas.
One of the reasons that the LWCF has historically enjoyed broad bipartisan support is that the program is funded by a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments instead of taxpayer dollars. However, LWCF funds are often siphoned off by politicians for non-conservation government spending. H.R. 3195 is a simple fix that would restore honest budgeting to the program.
Passage of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act earlier this year permanently reauthorized the LWCF after a lengthy effort in Congress. H.R. 3195 is now needed to ensure that the LWCF program receives full and dedicated funding each year and that the funding goes where it is intended.
Public lands often play a critical role in the emotional and spiritual recovery of veterans. Many paid an unimaginable price while serving overseas, especially those who served in combat. Far too many veterans come home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and other forms of trauma that can be utterly debilitating.
Transitioning back into civilian life presents many difficulties for veterans. However, through reconnecting us with friends and family, or through hunting, fishing, hiking, or just going on a relaxing stroll in a beautiful setting, public lands provide veterans with incredibly important opportunities to manage trauma and challenges that we can’t experience anywhere else. Protecting these lands for all our returning veterans in order to help them recover is the least our nation can do for them.
Whether I’m out surfing or walking the trails of the Tijuana Estuary with my dogs, I’m grateful for programs like the LWCF that ensure our public lands will be preserved for the generations of both veterans and civilians to come. On behalf of my brothers and sisters who served this nation, I thank our champions like Rep. Levin for their efforts to protect our public lands. Now it’s up to Congress to pass H.R. 3195 to ensure the LWCF gets permanent, full, and dedicated funding.
Mark West is an Imperial Beach City Councilman.
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