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Editorial: Bishop should not be a block to wilderness

Congressman can aid conservation

First Published Mar 22 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 22 2014 11:37 pm

It’s another report among many on the lack of congressional action on important issues, and it’s coming from a left-leaning organization. But the Center for American Progress provides information in its latest study that should be of particular interest to Utahns.

The report concludes that political maneuvering by Republicans in Washington has prevented passage, or even debate, on dozens of bills to create wilderness across the country. The effect has been that even measures coming from local stakeholders and sponsored by a state’s congressional representatives are being blocked.

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The report looks at 10 high-profile land conservation bills that have been introduced a combined 52 times over the past 30 years without success, despite in many cases having bipartisan support.

Utah offers an example of quite a different scenario that sometimes occurred before tea party hardliners, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, introduced a no-compromise brand of politics in Congress based on ideology instead of practicality.

In 2006 Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson collaborated with local leaders in Washington County around St. George to come up with a wilderness bill that also converted some public land into private ownership, recognized Utah’s first Wild and Scenic River and spawned a local planning effort that had previously been lacking. It passed Congress as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act in 2009.

But that kind of cooperation has been rare, and no conservation bills had passed for five years before last week’s designation of 30,000 acres in Michigan.

But Utah Republican Rob Bishop could be in a position to help restart the stalled process. He soon could become chairman of the critical House Natural Resources Committee, where conservation bills are first heard.

But, considering Bishop’s history on public lands and conservation, a more sure bet is that no additional wilderness would be designated under his chairmanship.

"Congressman Bishop in particular, is not willing to stand up for a conservation ethic that is a balanced one for the state of Utah," former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

The report cites Bishop’s influence while chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands as undermining conservation goals with "poison pill" amendments requiring land uses that fail to protect important outdoor resources.

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Wild lands have value beyond exploitation for energy or motorized recreation. Bishop should help protect that value, which Utah has in abundance.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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