A November poll commissioned by the Vet Voice Foundation found strong support among veterans for the protection of our parks and public lands for our children and future generations. To many veterans, this is not news. Seeing these numbers on paper only reminds us of the connection veterans share with the outdoors and those in our community who see protecting our natural treasures as a patriotic duty.
Vet Voice Foundation worked with Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting to compile the survey. The sample was comprised of 686 post- 9/11 veterans in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.
Of the veterans surveyed, 75 percent favor the federal government protecting public lands by designating them as national parks, monuments or wilderness. In an era where oil and gas drilling on public lands is all too common, 66 percent of veterans surveyed favored a proposal that calls on the federal government to first consider the potential impact of energy development leases on local recreation and wildlife habitat. With many sportsmen among our ranks, this is not much of a surprise. Veterans frequent public lands to hunt and fish and while they enjoy these activities in the great outdoors they also want to ensure that commercial energy development is conducted with forethought so as to conserve these opportunities for our kids to also enjoy.
Another important takeaway from these numbers is overwhelming support for the concept behind the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which uses fees from offshore oil and gas development to protect local national parks, wildlife refuges and forests, and provide access to hunting and fishing areas. LWCF has been in existence for 50 years. Unfortunately, since its inception, the program has only realized full funding in one of those years as Congress has repeatedly diverted the funds for other uses. Our survey indicates that 80 percent of veterans polled support the construct of this program.
Also relevant with these numbers is the partisan composition of the poll. Forty-five percent of the veterans surveyed self-identified as registered Republicans, 24 percent as Democrats, and 20 percent Independent. Western lawmakers need to take notice: their veteran constituents do care about the future of our public lands.
Shortly after the release of this groundbreaking survey, Vet Voice Foundation and members of its state steering committees visited with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Department of the Interior and various lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Our message was well received. Even the most skeptical lawmakers could not deny the passion of the veterans they heard in their offices, and our call for action on behalf of our nation's heritage.
Tony Cano, a veteran of the Iraq War from Las Cruces, New Mexico, told lawmakers about the value public lands hold for our returning veterans:
"Sometimes we need a refuge, a way to escape. My home is close to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and it is important for me personally to see these lands protected for future generations. Conservation is patriotic and as veterans it is our duty to ensure that our public lands are protected and preserved for future generations. This is our heritage, our culture as Americans. It is just as much a sacred duty as going to the polls to vote."
As veterans we understand that we don't always get a second chance to ensure that a mission is carried out successfully. The time to protect our public lands heritage is now. Hopefully our lawmakers in Congress and the White House will understand this and see that this responsibility lies with them, and with our generation. Join us on this mission.