Chuckwalla Bench Hedgehog Cactus

Los Angeles can be an overwhelming place to live, especially for veterans. I often feel as if I’m surrounded by people who cannot relate to my experiences as a soldier in the United States Army. Luckily, I found my refuge and solace just a couple hours away in the California desert.

Being in the desert reminds me of where my military career took me, like the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s an environment where I feel equal to my civilian peers, not 10 years behind as I’m still working to catch up in my career since getting out of the military. With the desert as my backdrop, I feel comfortable sharing stories about my deployments and military career. The desert has played an integral role in my transition back to civilian life, both in allowing me solitude to remember my past and giving me the hope and wanderlust needed to create my future. I cannot imagine my life without the California desert.

That is why I cannot abide by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s concerted push to roll back protections on public lands for commercial development. In February, the Trump administration ordered a review of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), designed to balance the conservation of public lands with development of renewable energy in the environmentally-sensitive deserts of California. Experts confirm that the 400,000 acres authorized for development by the DRECP are beyond sufficient to generate enough energy for California to reach its mandate of running on 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

The DRECP strikes an appropriate balance between land conservation and developing renewable energy sources like windmills and solar panels. Despite this, the Trump administration claims even more energy development is needed in the desert. By ordering a review of the DRECP, President Trump and Secretary Zinke are effectively opening the land for commercial activities that will close off public access, as would have happened in Juniper Flats if North Peak Wind had been built.

Re-evaluating the already-approved DRECP is a waste of taxpayer dollars and does a disservice to all stakeholders, including industry. The existing plan benefits renewable energy companies by providing access to existing data compiled through the DRECP rather than initiating expensive and lengthy new environmental studies, which helps streamline permit applications in specific, set-aside areas.

The millions of acres under the DRECP’s protection span seven counties and create wildlife corridors linking three national parks, five national forests, three national monuments, and 70 BLM wilderness areas. Jeopardizing the DRECP’s implementation risks the public’s access to millions of acres of lands in California, including national monuments and networks of vehicle trails. If these irreplaceable public lands are open for development, the iconic landscapes of the Mojave and Colorado deserts will be marred, Native American heritage sites will be destroyed, recreation areas will become inaccessible, and sensitive species will be at higher risk to endangerment and extinction through habitat destruction.

The Trump administration has made clear it does not value wilderness and public lands and Secretary Zinke continues to send a strong message that public lands are only valuable for their potential profits and not for their value to America’s heritage.

The existing DRECP is a shining example of achieving the responsible balance of energy production, conservation, and recreational uses of our public lands.

I am disappointed that Secretary Zinke, a fellow veteran, is willing to sacrifice our public lands so easily to the highest bidder, and without regard for the voices of the public. The desert is far too precious.

Allison Bailey is a veteran of the United States Army. She lives in Los Angeles.

This op-ed appeared on June 17, 2018, at vvdailypress.com.

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