In all my time in the military, I can't recall a sage-grouse being part of my unit, or any unit. And I certainly cannot recall any sage-grouse being dishonorably discharged, or selling military secrets to our enemies. Yet, some Republicans in Congress, led by Rep. Rob Bishop, are at it again, trying to include a rider in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that has nothing to do with our military and that would undo years of hard work conserving the sage-grouse and its habitat.
The rider would undercut federal and state sage-grouse conservation plans, undoing years of hard work on sage-grouse conservation, and devastating Colorado's iconic public lands. It would also enact a 10-year ban on listing the Greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), ensuring a listing down the line.
As a veteran who served two tours, in Kosovo and Iraq, I take very seriously how our Armed Forces are funded and if service members preparing to deploy have the proper equipment and training they need to protect our beloved country. In addition to overseeing the funding for our military operations and readiness, the NDAA also provides funding for the services, care, and pay promised to our military personnel and their families. Playing politics with this bill could have devastating impacts on our military service members and their families.
While Rep. Bishop and others are claiming that sage-grouse conservation is an impediment to sage-grouse conservation, this could not be farther from the truth.
The American military is the greatest fighting force in the world, and a chicken-sized bird is in no way a threat to our military or readiness. This has been supported before in letters released by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense Readiness, Army, Navy, and Air Force on the sage-grouse plans that clearly stated that the plans do not impede on our nation's military operations, training, or readiness.
I am not alone in my criticism of including sage-grouse in the NDAA, as people across the West have made it clear that they do not want to see a sage-grouse rider in the NDAA. In fact, a poll conducted by Harper Polling found that 66 percent of military families in Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington oppose including the sage-grouse rider in the NDAA.
Additionally, in 2015 and 2016, the leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee has succeeded in keeping the NDAA largely free of unrelated, ideological policy riders. The current chairman, Sen. John McCain, has taken a clear stand in the past that these types of provisions have no place in the defense bill. In December of 2016 McCain said, in referencing the sage-grouse provision that Rep. Bishop was pushing, "It has nothing to do with defense because the law is no Endangered Species Act can interfere with the operations and trainings at military bases. So it had no connection to NDAA." If Congress allows the NDAA to be hijacked by one of the most egregious of these riders in 2018, the sky's the limit on other riders.
Despite all of this, some Republicans in Congress have shown a willingness to go along and support Rep. Bishop and this extremely misguided rider. While some politicians might be OK with playing party politics with our military, we need our elected leaders in Colorado to stand up for our military and oppose this misguided rider on sage-grouse. It is my hope that both Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet stand together on behalf of the people of Colorado and oppose this nonsensical rider and instead ensure that our military and veterans have all they need.
In addition to this rider having nothing to do with our military, it would also be devastating to the years of hard work that Coloradans have done on sage-grouse conservation.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has long been a champion of sage-grouse conservation, and it is important that both Sens. Gardner and Bennet let the hard work on the ground continue, not muddy the waters by allowing this rider to be included in the final defense bill.
I am lucky enough to call Colorado my home, and sagebrush lands are a backdrop of the iconic western landscape that I identify with. Our wide-open spaces and wildlife are a big part of what we love and cherish about the United States of America. They are one of the reasons why so many brave men and women are glad to serve their country. Without their proper management and preservation, these lands will be lost to future generations forever.
It is my hope that Sens. Gardner and Bennet stand up for Colorado's hard work, oppose the inclusion of this misguided rider in the final NDAA, and instead ensure their colleagues stay focused on issues that are actually related to supporting our military. Supporting this rider would be devastating for the sage-grouse and a misservice to the brave men and women in uniform.
Garett Reppenhagen is a former U.S. Army Cavalry scout and has served as the chairman of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War, worked in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist and as vice president of public relations for the Nobel Prize-winning Veterans For America, and as a program director for Veterans Green Jobs. He currently lives in Denver and is the Rocky Mountain West coordinator for Vet Voice Foundation.