Las Vegas Sun

February 20, 2019

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Sage grouse has nothing to do with military pay

There is an old saying in the military: “Never mess with a soldier’s food or pay.” But unfortunately, we have some Republicans in Congress who are doing just that by playing party politics with the National Defense Authorization Act.

This group of Republicans, led by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah and supported by Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, is adamant about including a rider that has nothing to do with our military and that would turn back the clock on years of hard work on sage grouse conservation and be devastating for Nevada’s iconic public lands.

As a veteran and a lifelong Republican, I take seriously how our military is funded and whether service members preparing to deploy have the proper equipment and training they need to protect our country. In addition to overseeing the funding for our military operations and readiness, the defense authorization 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.

Bishop and Heller are misleading the American people by pushing forth the idea that sage grouse conservation has adverse impacts on our nation’s military readiness. It is insulting that Heller is implying that our military, the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, could be hampered by a small bird.

There is no evidence that military operations were ever compromised by federal planning efforts focused on the sage grouse. In fact, letters released by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense Readiness, Army, Navy and Air Force on the sage grouse plans have clearly stated that the plans do not impede on our nation’s military operations, training or readiness.

This is not the first time Bishop and Republicans in Congress have tried to hijack the defense authorization and disrespect our military. In past years, leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee has rightfully insisted that extraneous provisions, like the sage grouse rider, be tossed aside. We need Nevada’s politicians to take a lesson from those folks and support our troops instead of playing political games.

I am not alone in my criticism of including sage grouse in the defense authorization, as people across the West have made it clear that they do not want to see a sage grouse rider attached. 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.

If Bishop and Heller succeed in attaching the rider to the act, it would enact a 10-year ban on listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, which would eliminate an incentive to fully fund and implement the federal and state sage grouse conservation plans — plans that keep Nevada open and wild.

I call Nevada my home, and sage brush lands are a backdrop of western landscape that is iconic to me. I would not be someone you would consider a “tree hugger” but simply an old retired war horse who served his country in eight campaigns (wars), who loves his Nevada land and all the living things in it. 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 wold be lost to future generations forever.

Heller needs to step aside and stop this political charade. His misguided actions will only jeopardize the largest proposed pay raise for our men and women in uniform. Congress needs to start respecting our men and women in uniform and stop insulting our fighting forces by pretending that sage grouse conservation is a threat to our national security.

I hope Heller will stop playing politics with our armed forces. And I hope Democrats will oppose any riders that undermine our public lands, including any sage grouse rider. Finally, I expect all elected officials to take the high road and vote against any version of the defense bill that includes these types of nonsensical provisions. Our men and women in uniform deserve nothing less.

Tony Munoz is a retired president and CEO of a business management consulting firm. He served 28 years in the Air Force and is a disabled combat veteran.