After serving two tours in Iraq, I noticed that amidst the turmoil, I found a lot of peace and comfort in setting up camp somewhere isolated for a night or two. The love of camping or “roughing it” probably contributed to my decision to enlist in the military. And like many veterans, I depend on America’s iconic public lands — like the spectacular red-rock country around Moab, Utah — to find that peace now that I’m home again.
I had never been to Utah before, but when my uncle asked me to meet him for a week in Utah, I accepted and got to see the beauty of the state for the first time in my life. Moab was referred to me as a great half-way point to stop for the night. After just a short visit, I feel committed to ensuring this world-class site is conserved for future generations.
Moab was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. I woke up early on two separate mornings to see Delicate Arch and Mesa Arch. Of course, these are “main attractions” that most people get to see. What really sank into me was that there was so much to this area that I still need to explore, but I had a timeline to stick to for meeting up with my uncle. Being only five hours away, I plan to start making frequent trips back to the area to find my peace and some relaxation.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned there are some who may be jeopardizing my ability to continue enjoying this area. A very careful balance needs to be struck on these lands needs — to ensure that these special places are protected so that anyone who seeks a place to find peace may do so.
The easiest way to ensure that future generations can have the same kind of amazing experiences that millions of Americans have had in Moab is to work proactively to protect these lands. After sitting down with a number of folks who advocate for outdoor recreation opportunities in the American West, I’m convinced the way to do that is with a new planning tool from the Bureau of Land Management called a Master Leasing Plan. Master Leasing Plans are a balanced and locally driven approach to energy development and conservation on public lands.
Master Leasing Plans can help us strike a balance between all the people who use our public lands by providing a vision for how those lands are managed. It is important that the public recreation and outdoor economy that these lands drive is protected, and we must ensure that energy development doesn’t take away those existing jobs.
This type of planning process is not at odds with energy development. In fact, it can even provide that industry with a greater level of certainty than they would otherwise have. Smart planning now means less red tape and more production later.
Master Leasing Plans ensure that our most precious public lands are protected while allowing energy development and other uses to occur in areas where the returns are highest. In Moab, we are so close to seeing the MLP process through and protecting these beautiful lands for generations to come. Then we can turn our attention to making sure that other special places like Moab throughout the American West are also protected in a balanced way by MLPs.
The impact that lands like Moab can have on our country’s veterans, as well as the broader public, is incredibly important. It’s places like Moab that make our country so great. People flock to Moab because it is a special place — which is why we must protect it.
Mike Flaherty is a veteran who served two tours in Iraq and is passionate about protecting Moab.