When I joined the U.S. Air Force, I made a commitment to protect my country. This mission instilled me with a sense of purpose during my service, and it continues to sustain me today as a reservist.

Protecting America is a broad commitment — it means acting in the defense of people and cities of course. But for me, it also means ensuring that this nation’s beautiful lands are preserved. This is why I am speaking out today.

California is home to some of the most spectacular public lands in the world. The Berryessa Snow Mountain region is, without a doubt, one of these places.

Encompassing 319,300 acres of public lands in Yolo, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino counties, the region is home to a diverse array of California wildlife, including bald and golden eagles, black bears, and Tule elk. In addition, it is a home away from home for countless Californians — including myself.

As a boy growing up in the Sacramento area, I remember my excitement when my parents would call me and my siblings to hop in the car to go to Berryessa Snow Mountain. It was our favorite place to hike, fish, and enjoy each other’s company in a peaceful, natural setting.

I’m sure that many children growing up today feel the same way about Berryessa as I did when I was their age. It is a place of serenity, freedom, and, of course, fun.

Land like this is immeasurably valuable to our state, and it is our job to step up to preserve it for future generations. Today, this goal is closer than ever to becoming a reality in the Berryessa Snow Mountain region.

On May 8, representatives John Garamendi, Mike Thompson and Lynn Woolsey came together to introduce the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act. On July 11, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced companion legislation to the Senate.

If passed, this vital piece of legislation would officially make the region a National Conservation Area, ensuring that it will remain an unspoiled destination for California families.

In addition to providing a natural retreat for families and friends, the National Conservation Area designation has the potential to spur economic development and job growth in an area hit hard by the recession.

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Outdoor recreation already contributes an estimated $46 billion to California’s economy, providing 408,000 jobs across the state.

The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area will increase the area’s visibility and accessibility to visitors, adding to California’s already important outdoor recreation and tourism industries. The passage of the proposed bill would go a long way in achieving this goal.

After returning home, after my initial service in the U.S. Air Force, I visited Lake Berryessa — a place that carries so many wonderful memories for me. As I had hoped, the beauty and serenity of the setting brought me a great deal of peace.

I know that I am not alone in my commitment to these great lands, and I am honored to have the opportunity to continue serving my country by joining with our nation’s leaders in support of the Berryessa Snow Mountain Conservation Area Act.

Together, we can make sure the lands that we love will be preserved for future generations.

Lawson Stuart / Vet Voice Foundation member

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