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By Lori Abbott, California News Service

November 17, 2012 (San Diego)-Congress returned to Washington, D.C., to begin its lame-duck session, but a veterans' group has not given up the fight for legislation to protect parts of the California desert. A bill  by Darrell Issa (R-San Diego) would designate as wilderness more than 21,000 acres of Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia in northern San Diego County. 

Scott Roney is a retired U.S. Army chaplain and a member of the Vet Voice Foundation. He says these open lands are especially important now to veterans and active military who have had back-to-back deployments.

"It's great for veterans to have places to go to that are calming, soothing, away from the hustle and bustle. It's kind of a means of recovery, reintegration back into pre-war life."

The bill has been stalled in the House Natural Resources Committee for months. Redistricting will mean Issa will no longer represent the immediate area beginning next year, giving supporters even more reason to push for its passage. The legislation would add nearly 7,800 acres to the existing Aqua Tibia Wilderness and expand the Beauty Mountain Wilderness by nearly 14,000 acres. 

As a native of Southern California, Roney says over the years he has seen the region's open spaces disappear.

"There's a tremendous amount of wildlife, there's a tremendous amount of trees and fauna. It's very important to me to keep part of that legacy that I grew up with."

Issa's bill is also supported by conservationists, who say protecting these public lands boosts local tourism and recreation-based economy.

More information about the Beauty Mountain and Agua Tibia Wilderness Act, H.R. 41, is available at

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