Veterans unite to protect public lands

 ·  Michael Seaman, The Davis Enterprise

Those of us who answer the call to defend the liberties and freedoms of this great nation often pay a terrible price for doing so. Thousands of soldiers are returning home from places like Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, trauma, anxiety and depression. These problems can be debilitating for soldiers, making their transition to civilian life difficult and, in some cases, impossible.

We owe it to our returning servicemen and women to do all we can to help them recover from experiencing the pain and suffering caused by war. There is something we can do close to home that does not cost taxpayers a penny, but will help ease the suffering of the men and women of our armed forces: Preserve our open spaces.

Nature heals. Spending time in nature soothes battered souls, calms jangled nerves and helps undo the tension and anxiety that build with serving on a battlefield. Recent scientific studies are increasingly supporting this conclusion as well, finding that veterans who participate in outdoor recreation show signs of improved mental health.

Close to the Sacramento area, 350,000 acres of federal public lands in the Berryessa Snow Mountain region provide ample opportunities for veterans to experience the wonder of America’s great outdoors and heal the wounds of war. For those returning from the battlefield, the public lands in Berryessa Snow Mountain are a prescription for peace and reconnecting with family and society.

The region also thrives with a variety of recreational activities such as hiking, hunting, camping, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding and, of course, boating on beautiful Lake Berryessa. There are also many routes available for those who enjoy off-road vehicles. It has opportunities available for anyone seeking an outdoor experience in Northern California.

For many veterans, public lands are not only a place for recreation; they also serve a therapeutic purpose. Public lands provide much-needed respite for our wounded warriors returning from service and allow our veterans and their families a place to heal and find new methods of recovery from the wounds of war.

Perhaps that is why veterans overwhelmingly support protecting America’s public lands. A recent survey found that three-quarters of post-9/11 veterans support increased protections for public lands by designating additional wilderness, monuments and parks.

I served my country proudly as an officer in the U.S. Navy. As a veteran, I take nothing for granted. Outdoor opportunities like these won’t last forever unless we carefully defend them. Proposals are pending before Congress to permanently protect the Berryessa Snow Mountain region as a national conservation area, which will preserve the current uses of the land for all to enjoy forever.

This proposal is great for veterans like me, who defend American soil and want our public lands to be there when we return. I want my fellow servicemen and women to be able to enjoy Berryessa Snow Mountain — to hike to splendid waterfalls, float down Cache Creek and climb atop Snow Mountain — forever. And our soldiers need this region to help heal the battle scars that service brings.

Protecting Berryessa Snow Mountain will mean so much to the returning men and women who sacrificed for America. It will provide a place of refuge and sanctuary where we can go to become whole again. And it will provide great benefits to everyone who lives near or visits this majestic region.

Service to country runs deep in my blood and I have paid my dues. Let’s make sure that veterans returning from war have the best opportunities available to heal. Let’s ensure that Berryessa Snow Mountain is preserved for veterans, and for all Americans to enjoy. America’s defenders deserve nothing less.

— Michael Seaman, a Sacramento resident, is a U.S. Navy veteran and a member of Vet Voice Foundation.