A Utahn is in line to lead the House panel that oversees the nation’s public lands. But advocates doubt Congressman Rob Bishop will pick up the tradition of bipartisan support for conservation if he gets the job leading the House Natural Resources Committee.
Ken Salazar is former U.S. Interior Secretary and a onetime Democratic senator from Colorado. He recalls how state officials put up money and manpower last fall to keep Utah’s five national parks open during the federal government shutdown. Salazar says it shows the value Utahns put on conserving the state’s landscapes and wildlife.
“There is where the irony stands in my mind,” says Salazar, “that the public land legacy for Utah is so tremendously important to the economy of Utah and yet the Utah – well, Congressman Bishop, in particular -- is not willing to really stand up for a conservation ethic that is a balanced one.”
Salazar is now involved with the Equal Ground campaign, a conservation advocacy group. Its new report criticizes Congress for inaction on new refuges, parks, monuments, historic areas and funding. It says lawmakers have protected just 2.9 million acres for future generations, but they’ve okayed oil and gas drilling on 7.4 million acres. They’ve even snubbed bills with local support, like the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act. But the Republican congressman doesn’t agree with the report’s conclusions.
“The accusations that are being made here have no credibility,” he says. “They’re actually retreads of accusations that have been made several different times.”
Bishop says the Republican-led House Resources Committee is simply taking a different approach than in the past.
“We’re looking at things differently,” he explains. “There are already 433 million acres in this country that are off limits to multiple-use or off limits to anything except conservation. What we are going to do in the future is make sure when you create these new wilderness areas you make sure you also add the avenue necessary to protect recreational activities.”
The Utah lawmaker also says there’s no way to know if and when he might become chairman of the Resources Committee.