We chose to serve our country in the Armed Forces because we love what our nation stands for. An important part of the American heritage is the access to our nation’s public lands and great outdoors, which are important to us for hunting, fishing and hiking but also are important to veterans as places of healing and solace for those returning from combat.

After serving in the Army and Navy, we are very disappointed that our congressional leaders have failed to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Due to congressional inaction, the Land and Water Conservation Fund expired this past September. First established by Congress in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund provided funding for outdoor recreation through increased access and opportunities on America’s public lands; support of our local parks; restoration of Wisconsin’s rivers, lakes and watersheds; and protection of key wildlife areas.

This fund has been one of America’s most successful conservation programs and has supplied Wisconsin with more than $218 million of critical funding for local parks, trails and ball fields as well as funding for state and national parks, forests and fish and wildlife properties.

The fund has helped establish more than 20 public recreational land projects for Rock County, city of Janesville, city of Beloit, city of Edgerton, village of Orfordville or the town of Clinton.

As veterans who have proudly served our country, we are calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to use his last few months as a national leader to right this wrong and ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is permanently reauthorized and fully funded. This is important to enhance his legacy as a conservationist and is critically important to Wisconsin’s outdoor recreation industry, which contributes $17.9 billion annually to our state’s economy and supports 168,000 local jobs.

Because of its long track record of success, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has strong bipartisan support in Congress, and if there is ever an issue where our leaders in Washington, D.C., can come together to work for the greater good, this program fits the bill.

Before Speaker Ryan leaves office, he has a unique opportunity to leave his mark not only on Wisconsin, but also on nearly every county in America by supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Given the partisan rancor and division of this last election, it would be nice to inject a breath of fresh air into our country by passing legislation that truly benefits the health and well-being of all Americans, especially our veterans.

Jerry Knuth of Plover is a retired U.S Army specialist. Dave Verhage of Plover is a retired U.S. Navy third class petty officer.

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