For those of us that have experienced the horror of war, there is one thing we have in common upon our return from the battlefield: a search for ways to deal with loss, and a struggle to reintegrate back into civilian life. As a veteran of the Persian Gulf and Iraq Wars, I know firsthand about this journey from soldier to civilian.
Many veterans, like me, have turned to our parks and public lands as a means of recovery. A day spent outdoors fishing, hunting, hiking and camping provides a sense of calm and the space for healing that many of us need.
That is why I am speaking out to protect America's public lands -- it is time to repay what these places have given to me and other veterans.
I'm calling attention to House Republicans who recently cut funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the final version of the Transportation bill. Their actions threaten the future of our public lands in our nation and our country's economy.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a program that funds local outdoor recreation opportunities from community baseball fields to national parks. Established in 1964, the fund has a nearly 50-year history of bipartisan support and has been utilized in every state.
The LWCF serves as a driver for our economy by helping to create spaces where outdoor recreation can take place; these activities in turn support our economy. In fact, outdoor recreation contributes a total of $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy. In my home state of California, this translates to $46 billion annually to California's economy and 408,000 jobs.
Best yet -- LWCF uses no taxpayer money. Each year, energy companies pay royalties on their oil and gas leases in the Outer Continental Shelf. A small portion of those fees is intended for the LWCF, but regrettably, nearly every year since the program's inception, Congress has redirected a majority of those funds to other purposes.
The Senate version of the Transportation bill included a provision that would have ensured that $700 million of annual deposits into the Land and Water Conservation Fund are used for their intended purposes over the next two years. The provision garnered an overwhelming 76 bipartisan votes on the Senate floor because LWCF is broadly supported in Congress, and among the American people.
Unfortunately, this same provision was not included in the House version of the bill. Then, during negotiations over the final version, House Republicans cast the Land and Water Conservation Fund overboard and stripped the provision from the bill. That's truly a loss for our country, our economy, and for the future of our nation's public lands.
There's a lot of talk in Washington, D.C., about creating jobs right now, but refusing to take action on the Land and Water Conservation Fund ignores a great opportunity to spur our economy. After all, even a minimal investment in our public lands produces great results. Imagine the economic benefit and the jobs that could be created if we invested the oil and gas royalties where they were intended for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
At moments like these, I think of Teddy Roosevelt, one of our nation's greatest soldiers and a statesman. He was also a founder of the conservation movement in this country, and first protected Muir Woods's inspiring redwoods for our enjoyment in 1908. He once said, "There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country."
I hope that House Republicans will remember the words of TR, and fight for LWCF and our great outdoors in the future.
California's veterans will be watching.