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San Bernadino Sun - In Defense of our Precious Desert

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By Joshua Bunce

I am a veteran as well as someone who cares about the protection of our lands. I feel I have a patriotic duty to have my voice heard concerning the conservation of our lands.

My role, the veteran's role, is not restricted to serving overseas, but defending our land, here - and everywhere!

I would like to spend a moment to highlight one such preservation and defense of our precious land: In January, Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced the inspiring California Desert Protection Act of 2011 that will help protect the deserts of Southern California, strengthen our economy, enhance tourism, and create two national monuments. It could perhaps be one of the most important pieces of legislation that Sen. Feinstein has ever authored!

The deserts of Southern California are incredible wonders that attract visitors each year from all over our great nation and world. These visitors contribute millions of dollars to our local economies. Sen. Feinstein's legislation will undoubtedly bring an increase in revenue and tourists to the region by this legislation's creation of two national monuments.

This bill will also benefit veterans and their family members. The region is home to three major military installations and many of our men and women in uniform remain in the area after retiring or completing their service. Some of these men and women find jobs in the region while others open businesses or return to school. This legislation is a win for our veterans,
as the money spent in the area will only strengthen our local communities and create jobs.

The beautiful lands also serve another use to the veteran community. They are a platform for readjustment. Many of our men and women serve grueling tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Often, they return home with both the physical and mental scars of war. We are looking for peace. The desert with all its spiritual wonder provides this. Our veterans are able to experience wonderful hikes with amazing views and interesting encounters with the local wildlife such as bighorn sheep and golden eagles. These lands are invaluable for many in this healing process, providing a place of spiritual and mental readjustment through recreation and beauty.

In a time of war, Sen. Feinstein also recognizes the importance of training for our armed forces. She strongly considered our men and women in uniform when writing this legislation. From its inception, the military was consulted to ensure that no part of the bill obstructs or hinders the training process of those in uniform.

Sen. Feinstein's legislation will ensure that our most wild and scenic areas are preserved, while other areas - especially land that was previously disturbed by development or farming - can be considered for new energy projects. Southern California has an opportunity to become a world leader in renewable energy, and there is more than enough acreage outside the senator's proposed monuments for those energy projects.

Lastly, perhaps the reason Sen. Feinstein's bill is so sweeping was her determination to bring every vested party to the table to start an open dialogue. From the military to off-road vehicle groups to renewable energy companies, there is a place in this discussion. It has been an honorably open process that creates a strengthening of legislation and faith for the people of the district.

This legislation is too important to lose. Its impact will be felt for many years, giving brighter days to the people of the district and our veterans - simply with the preservation of our dear desert land. California truly cannot afford to allow this legislation to fail. We owe this to our people, our children, our future, our veterans and ourselves. We owe the beauty of these lands to everyone!

Joshua Bunce is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and a member of Vet Voice Foundation; www.vetvoicefoundation.org. He lives in Riverside.


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