Utah Congressman Rob Bishop is travelling to Maine this week to hold a field hearing on the proposed Maine Woods National Monument. But unlike the public meeting held by Senator Angus King and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis earlier this month—which gave nearly 1,400 Mainers the opportunity to participate in an open and public dialogue—Rep. Bishop’s field hearing will be a tightly controlled forum to spread his longstanding anti-conservation message.
While Congressman Bishop may be a new face to reporters in Maine, the Center for Western Priorities tracks his agenda closely, which is why we’re providing this background briefing.
Rep. Bishop is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees America’s public lands, including our national parks, national monuments, national forests, and wildlife refuges. The large majority of these lands are located in the Western United States. And for those of us who live in the West, Rep. Bishop’s position on America’s public lands is well known: he doesn’t like them and will do virtually anything in his power to erode America’s public lands legacy in spite of public support for parks and protected lands.
With Rep. Bishop traveling to Maine, here are four things to know about the congressman and his ideological aversion to national parks, monuments, and other public lands.
- He is working to transfer American-owned public lands into state and private hands
- He wants to gut the bipartisan Land & Water Conservation Fund, which some have called “America’s most successful parks program”
- He has no qualms trampling private property rights to undermine land conservation efforts
- He has a history of rejecting local input and opposing locally-driven land conservation efforts
Rep. Bishop is working to dispose of American public lands into state and private hands
Months after becoming chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Bishop announced the formation of the Federal Lands Action Group, which he’s put in charge of disposing, essentially giving away or selling-off, American public lands. Bishop wrote in a press release announcing the Federal Lands Action Group that it “will explore legal and historical background in order to determine the best congressional action needed to return [public lands] back to the rightful owners.”
In Rep. Bishop’s view, our iconic public lands—Colorado’s alpine peaks, Utah’s red rock desert, and Montana’s mountain valleys—which all American’s share a piece of, should be put into state and private ownership. And it’s not just in the Western U.S. where Rep. Bishop wants to sell-off public lands; the Congressman tried to slip a controversial provision to sell or dispose of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge as a precondition for considering a must-pass bill to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. Rep. Bishop’s public lands sell-off was panned (for example: here and here) and ultimately removed from the legislation, much to the congressman’s chagrin.
Rep. Bishop wants to gut the bipartisan Land & Water Conservation Fund
The Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), arguably America’s most important land conservation program, provides critical funds to protect public lands, improve access for hunting, fishing, and other recreation, and help communities build trails, parks, and playgrounds.
Since its creation in 1965, LWCF has provided approximately $172 million for Maine to protect places like Acadia National Park, Moosehead National Wildlife Refuge, and numerous local community park projects.
Both Republican and Democratic members of Maine’s congressional delegation support the Land & Water Conservation Fund, but Rep. Bishop is vehemently opposed to the program, vowing to kill LWCF as we know it. In its place, Rep. Bishop envisions a program that funds oil worker training, while limiting investments into the protection of America’s national parks and public lands. Thus far, Rep. Bishop’s attempts to do away with LWCF have failed.
Rep. Bishop has no qualms about stifling private property rights
Rep. Bishop claims to be a devout supporter of private property rights, writing on his website that “protecting private property” is among his “chief priorities.” But when it comes to his opposition to national parks and other public lands, he’s happy to stifle private property rights.
Rep. Bishop is currently working to eliminate the ability of private property owners to willingly protect their land. The congressman wants to make it virtually impossible for the National Park Service or other U.S. land management agencies to purchase private lands within or next to existing public lands from a willing seller. This is significant because there are currently 1.6 million acres of private land lying within the boundaries of America’s national parks—this includes private lands within Acadia National Park, Zion National Park, Saguaro National Park, and over 100 other national parks. If a private landowner chooses to sell his or her land, but the Park Service cannot obtain it, there’s a significant risk for trophy home or resort development within our national parks.
And we’re witnessing Rep. Bishop’s hypocrisy when it comes to private property rights play out in Maine: the congressman is trying to stifle the donation of land (and a $40 million endowment to manage the land) from a private landowner for the creation of the Maine Woods National Monument.
Rep. Bishop has a history of rejecting local input and opposing locally-driven and bipartisan land conservation efforts
Rep. Bishop often panders to the importance of local input and local solutions, but the congressman is the first to jettison local compromises in place of his ideological, anti-conservation agenda.
In Colorado, for example, a multi-year, community-driven process, which resulted in bipartisan wilderness legislation to protect Hermosa Creek, was almost destroyed when Rep. Bishop attached an anti-conservation amendment onto the bill that went against a local compromise. He attached a similar anti-conservation amendment onto a bill that would have expanded a national monument in California.
Rep. Bishop always opposes the creation of new national monuments, no matter how broadly supported by the local community. When President Obama protected three new national monuments in California at the behest of locals, Rep. Bishop called the president “authoritarian.” When President Obama permanently protected the popular Brown’s Canyon National Monument he argued that the process “sidelined the American public.” But Rep. Bishop ignores the fact that Congress had failed for decades to pass bipartisan legislation. And he overlooks that the Obama administration and Colorado elected officials held an open and honest dialogue with the local communities before protecting the area.
Now, Rep Bishop is taking his anti-parks fight to Maine and rather than defer to Mainers who’ve worked tirelessly to debate, shape, negotiate, and improve upon a plan to protect private property as the Maine Woods National Monument, he’s hellbent on infusing his extreme agenda.