With just a few months left in this Congress, we are about to lose a rare opportunity to protect beautiful unspoiled lands in my backyard of north San Diego County.

As a veteran who has counseled many other military vets returning from combat, I see firsthand the soul-redeeming power of the outdoors. How many times in our lives has someone told us to “go clear your head with a walk” or “you need a change of scenery”?

That is especially true in my work as a chaplain. Many veterans, in fact, do need a place to decompress, and nature is the best pressure release valve. I’ve worked with our servicemen and women, and it is amazing how a hunting trip, a fishing outing or even a walk in the woods can help heal the physical and mental scars of war.

Our military men and women, like all humans, need the chance to breathe fresh air and to enjoy wide open vistas away from the rush of cities and freeways.

That’s why I support the Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia Wilderness Act of 2011 (H.R. 41/S. 1574) that would protect a total of 21,000 acres of wide open vistas, unique rock formations, steep canyons and chaparral and oak woodlands. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa in the House of Representatives and in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer.

But time is running out. When this Congress ends in January, Issa’s district will no longer include Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia. His bill, and Boxer’s, must be passed by Congress soon, or the bills die.

Many people enjoy and visit these recreation spots. Thousands of hikers and equestrians use the California Riding and Hiking Trail and the Cutca Trail. And preserving these two unspoiled places preserves a unique transition zone between the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to the east and the endangered coastal sage scrub of the Coast Range to the west.

We all know that San Diego County is getting squeezed by rapid growth and more people. That’s why this chance to keep Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia protected as they are now for future generations of veterans and visitors is an incredible gift.

Our country’s public lands are truly worth fighting for. Some of the earth’s most beautiful and untouched natural wonders are in the United States — from mountains of Montana to the Grand Canyon to pristine forests.

These spectacular and iconic symbols of America give us fantastic outdoor recreation, clean drinking water and healthy air to breathe. And in this challenging economy, wild lands are also a huge source of recreation and tourism dollars.

This is especially important in San Diego County which draws international visitors and convention guests to our beaches and cultural sights, world famous attractions and fantastic climate. Protecting Agua Tibia and Beauty Mountain as wilderness will add another jewel to San Diego’s reputation as a great visitor destination.

The Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia legislation, just like the 26 other stalled wild lands bills in the U.S. House of Representatives, has local, bipartisan support. Yet, if Congress stays on its current course, this will be the first Congress since 1966 to not protect an acre of wilderness.

It saddens me that we are near the end of what could be the worst Congress for wilderness protection in 46 years. And the next Congress may be no better.

What message would that send to our families and children? What kind of legacy does that leave to the brave men and women who have protected this country in times of combat?

Scott Roney is a chaplain in Temecula.

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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