11/28/2012 10:56 am ET Updated Jan 28, 2013

A Veteran's Perspective: Congress Must Fully Fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund

As a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, I've called many places around the world home. After I was medically retired from the Army in 2009, I found a new home in California. One of the things that drew me to this great state was how I am always just a short drive away from many of the most beautiful places on Earth. Spending time in the outdoors is a way of life in California, one that suits me and many fellow veterans extremely well as we readjust to life at home.

Veterans often find it challenging to return home after a tour of duty. Adjusting to the humdrum reality of everyday life after the high intensity of deployment can be difficult. Many veterans find healing during this transition by spending time in the outdoors fishing, hiking, hunting and camping with family and friends. That's why it's personally important for me and many veterans that we protect public lands in our state and our nation. These are the lands that we fought to defend. They represent the great majesty of our country and the boundless opportunity of the American dream.

Before the close of the year and the end of the 112th Congress, our leaders in Washington, D.C., have a great opportunity to ensure the future of California's public lands with full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Nearly 50 years ago Congress created the LWCF to aid the protection of land and water projects, using fees from private companies conducting offshore oil and gas drilling, not taxpayer dollars. The LWCF has played an important role all throughout California, protecting places for future generations to enjoy. In Oakland the LWCF contributed to Tidewater Park Trail, a shoreline access point and open space that provides a place for families to walk and ride bikes. Northeast of Fresno the LWCF helped make improvements at Millerton Lake, a popular spot for boating, fishing and swimming, with trails in the surrounding hills for hiking. East of Modesto the LWCF contributed to the acquisition of the Modesto Reservoir, a place for water sports, camping and waterfowl hunting at certain times of year. Around the San Diego area the LWCF helped protect beaches such as South Carlsbad State Beach, where many people come to swim, surf and camp on the top of the bluffs.

The LWCF also makes an important contribution to our nation's and our state's economy, particularly through the outdoor recreation industry. Outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, camping, biking, hunting and fishing depend on the conservation of our public lands. This industry is a significant engine of economic growth, supporting 6.1 million jobs nationwide and contributing $646 billion in spending each year. In California outdoor recreation contributes more than $46 billion annually to our economy and supports more than 408,000 jobs. Yet nearly every year, Congress has siphoned money from the fund for unrelated expenditures. The LWCF could be funded up to $900 million each year, but only once in its nearly 50-year history has that occurred.

The best chance to fix this crucial program is in the upcoming lame duck session. Congress must use this window to find a legislative solution that finally makes good on a 50-year unmet promise and ensures full and dedicated funding of the LWCF. As 2012 comes to a close, I hope that Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein will continue their strong advocacy for the LWCF. I thank them for their past leadership on this issue and urge their continued support. I urge California's representatives, including Rep. Jim Costa and Rep. Jeff Denham from the Central Valley and Rep.-elect Scott Peters from the San Diego area, to join them in supporting full, permanent and dedicated funding of LWCF.

The LWCF has substantial bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, and diverse interests from all across the country have echoed their support for a legislative solution, including large and small businesses, sportsmen's groups and, of course, my fellow veterans. As a veteran, I urge our leaders to take up this important issue. You will honor our service by conserving the special places that are part of what it means to be an American.