06/19/2013 11:54 am ET Updated Aug 19, 2013

Equal Ground for Energy Development and Conservation

There has been a great deal of media attention lately about how Americans can best support and protect their parks and public lands, from small business CEOs talking about investing in the outdoors to Congress and environmental organizations sparring about who and how to protect new national monuments.

Regardless of whom is doing the talking -- the good news is that there is broad agreement we should all be walking. The American public wants action to conserve our Great Outdoors. New polling this week shows strong support among Western Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike to maintain access to public lands for recreation and permanently protect public lands for our kids and grandkids for the future. The poll of nearly 1,000 voters in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, was conducted by Hart Research Associates for the Center for American Progress.

Perhaps most important, the research found that Westerners think we can do both - responsible development AND more protection of public lands (59 percent).

As a veteran, I find myself in complete agreement. It's not an either-or question. The key is to direct oil and gas development to the right places, and to set aside some lands that are too special to drill.

As I've blogged about before, I care about public lands - not just because I am a hiker, but because I and others use these lands to heal. This is the America I fought for - and want to protect for my kids someday. But I also want to see our nation energy-independent - for the benefit of our economy, and national security.

That means we've got to find a balance. Look, I know oil and gas drilling can be unpleasant - so can a colonoscopy. But as long as our health as a nation depends on it, let's do it right. Let's make sure "all of the above" energy policy includes opportunities for local and national conservation of national parks and the public lands near where people live. Let's protect the places that matter most for our water supplies, wildlife habitat, military and cultural heritage and outdoor recreation.

According to the poll results, 78 percent of voters say some of the fee money collected from oil and natural gas drilling on public lands should be put toward repairing the damage caused by drilling to land, fish, and wildlife habitat. Sixty-three percent say some of that fee money should be put toward research and development to develop new technologies for clean, renewable energy.

These are common-sense investments in the future of our public lands heritage and ensure that heritage is passed along for the next generation to enjoy. Regardless of what blog or newspaper you read, we can likely all agree on the importance of that legacy. Let's put conservation and energy development on equal ground.