My Turn

Opinion: Why the Land and Water Conservation Fund matters to America’s veterans

By Paul White, Ranchos de Taos
Posted 12/17/18

I chose to serve my country in the armed forces because I love what our nation stands for.  I also believe those ideals are worth defending.

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My Turn

Opinion: Why the Land and Water Conservation Fund matters to America’s veterans

Posted

I chose to serve my country in the armed forces because I love what our nation stands for.  I also believe those ideals are worth defending.

As Americans, we can be proud of many things when it comes to who we are as a nation. One of the great benefits of being an American is the incredible access to our nation’s public lands and great outdoors, which provide not only recreation but also great healing and solace for many who have returned from combat. After serving as an A1C in the United States Air Force security police and having a civilian career in protecting our public lands, I am dismayed that our Congressional leaders are failing to do their jobs.

Due to Congressional inaction, the Land and Water Conservation fund expired this past September.

First established by Congress in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund provides funding for outdoor recreation through increased access to America’s public lands, supports our local parks, restores New Mexico’s rivers and watersheds and protects key wildlife areas. This fund has been one of America’s most successful conservation programs and over the past 50 years has supplied New Mexico with over $316 million of critical funding for local parks, hiking trails and ballfields as well as funding for our national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges.

Many New Mexicans do not know that many of our state’s most iconic natural areas, such as the Valles Caldera National Park Preserve, Río Grande del Norte, Bandelier, and Tent Rocks National Monuments, and the Río Grande Wild and Scenic River Area have received significant funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Allowing the Land and Water Conservation Fund to expire is a tragic mistake that will have serious impacts on our local communities, sportsmen, our state’s wildlife and our nation’s veterans.

As a veteran who has proudly served our country, I am calling on Senators Udall and Heinrich and our congressional delegation to use the next few months to right this wrong and ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is permanently reauthorized and fully funded. If our congressional leaders fail to act, it would not only be a failure to serve the common good but also have tragic consequences for New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry, which contributes $9.9 billion annually to our state’s economy and supports 99,000 local jobs.

Because of its long track record of success, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has strong bipartisan support in Congress. If there was ever an issue where our leaders in Washington, D.C., can come together to work for the greater good, this program fits the bill.

As veterans we share a strong connection to the outdoors. We served not only to protect our communities but also to protect access to our public lands that often provide opportunities for reconnecting with our families through fishing and hunting as well serve as places of healing, peace and recovery for those dealing with the wounds of combat.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund not only helps provide essential access to and protection of these places but also funds our nation’s historic battlefields and memorials such as Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, the 9/11 Flight 93 Memorial and Fort Union here in New Mexico.

As a veteran who recognizes the value and importance of protecting our public lands, I am calling on Senators Udall and Heinrich to fulfill their duty to the American people and to our nation’s veterans by permanently reauthorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. By supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund, our congressional leaders not only have a unique opportunity to leave their mark on New Mexico but also on nearly every county in America.

Given the partisan rancor and division of this last election, it would be nice for our nation’s leaders to come together and pass legislation that truly benefits the health and well-being of all Americans, especially veterans.

Paul White lives in Ranchos de Taos. 

Editor’s note: Both Senators Udall and Heinrich publicly have championed and pushed for reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and making it permanent.

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