Rep. Rob Bishop is once again trying to orchestrate state seizure of public lands that belong to all Americans.
Credit: Gage Skidmore, flickr.
Helping states take over public lands is an unpopular idea—recent polling shows 78 percent of Americans oppose efforts to privatize or sell public lands, including 64 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump—but not everyone seems to be paying attention. Exhibit A: Rep. Rob Bishop, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is requesting that $50 million of taxpayer money be used to facilitate that very thing.
Let's be clear. From New Mexico to Idaho, the people have spoken: Our Wild public lands must stay in public hands. We need to tell members of Congress who are key to the federal budget process—especially Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Ken Calvert, the chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee—that Rep. Bishop's proposal is a bad idea.
Call Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (202-225-5034) and Ken Calvert (202-225-1986) and tell them that their spending bills must not include Bishop's proposal to give away public lands
Straightforward attempts to promote the "land takeover" movement have met with major opposition—Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz is taking an ongoing public flogging for his efforts—so anti-conservation lawmakers seem to be trying a different, subtler approach, exemplified by proposals like this.
“The American people spoke loudly in January when they swiftly and decisively ended Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s push to sell off 3.3 million acres of our public lands, and now Chairman Bishop is burying a new attack in the folds of the budget process, hoping nobody will notice,” said Matt Keller, senior director of conservation with The Wilderness Society, in a statement.
These are not isolated incidents; they are forays into distinctly unpopular and un-American political territory by a fringe movement that wants to seize Our Wild public lands and undermine the idea that wild places should be open to everyone.
Bishop proposal also features broader attack on Our Wild public lands
Shortly after beginning the current legislative session, Congress passed a little-known rule that will make it easier to sell off national public lands. The provision, added by Bishop himself, orders the Congressional Budget Office, which provides lawmakers with data so they can make budget decisions, to pretend that public lands have no monetary value. Rep. Bishop's newest scheme effectively admits that rule was based on a faulty premise by asking for taxpayer money to offset the value of national public lands.
In addition to facilitating the seizure of national public lands, Bishop's new budget proposal opposes the protection of new tracts of land; supports the repeal of measures to reform the federal coal program and halt new coal leases on public lands; and bleeds money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund rather than adequately funding our parks and public lands using drilling royalties, as that program originally intended.
No lessons learned from Chaffetz fiasco?
In February, a little over a week after proposing to sell public land in 10 western states with H.R. 621, Rep. Chaffetz announced in a midnight Instagram post that his proposal would "die." Congressional offices had reportedly been overwhelmed by calls from people who want to keep Our Wild public. This included many of Chaffetz's own constituents, who were concerned about the possibility of losing access to places they love.
The defeat of Chaffetz's bill—as well as the criticism he heard at a subsequent town hall meeting for championing it and other anti-public lands measures in the first place—was a remarkable illustration of the importance of citizen advocacy. An ordinary person can still pick up the phone and make a big difference by reminding lawmakers who works for whom.
But, again, it seems not everyone in Congress was paying attention to that episode. We need to make sure Bishop's proposal is also killed in its tracks.