In a Dec. 26 interview with the Washington Examiner, Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah made a number of statements that reveal just how radical and short-sighted his public lands agenda is. As a proud and patriotic conservative, I find this deeply disturbing.
America’s public lands belong to all of us. These spectacular lands are an endowment left to us and to future generations by forwarded-thinking leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. As Ronald Reagan so wisely pointed out, “This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”
It is clear that Congressman Bishop has a very different view of public lands and their purpose.
He is thrilled that he — along with his Utah delegation cohorts — were able to convince President Trump to roll back federal protections on 2 million acres of land in Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, but these rollbacks (and those yet to come) are not in the best interest of our nation or our heritage.
The 1906 law that allows presidents to designate national monuments, the Antiquities Act, was conceived and enacted by Republicans to stem the rampant looting and exploitation of America’s natural and cultural heritage. It has served the nation well for 112 years, safeguarding iconic places like the Grand Canyon, the Tetons, and what is now Acadia National Park.
It is particularly telling that Bishop, who gets most of his campaign cash from out-of-state special interests, has referred to this venerable law as “the most evil act ever invented.”
For Bears Ears, one of our nation’s most significant archaeological areas, national monument protection is critical to the protection of more than 100,000 sites of historical and cultural significance.
In the 20 years since it gained national monument status, Grand Staircase-Escalante has become an economic boon to the region as a popular tourism and outdoor recreation destination. That is why local businesses and the Escalante-Boulder Chamber of Commerce strongly oppose the Trump administration’s rollback.
Despite this, Bishop claimed to the Washington Examiner that reducing the national monuments is “what the locals want.” Both he and the administration have been completely dismissive of public opinion, including the millions of official comments submitted to the Department of Interior — 99 percent of which opposed any rollbacks.
A new poll of conservatives also found that 90 percent of us support keeping national monuments intact.
None of this seems to matter to Bishop or the administration. It is bad enough they are upending the Theodore Roosevelt conservation ethic that has guided our leaders for more than a century, but since when do Republicans ignore the pleas of local small businesses?
No matter how Bishop and the administration try to spin it, their zeal to undo protections for these special places represents special interest “swamp” politics at its worst. By opening these areas to up to exploitation and development, they are rewarding their political allies at the expense of everyone else.
It is no coincidence that the areas of Grand Staircase and Bears Ears removed from protection include coal, oil and uranium deposits sought by multinational energy companies like Peabody, Murray Energy, and Energy Fuels, Inc.
Based on the recommendations of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, this giveaway will not end at the Utah border. Monuments are being targeted in other states as well. At the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, for example, Zinke has suggested prioritizing commercial timber harvests.
With the popularity of these monuments spurring business development, jobs and increased wages, none of the rollbacks makes economic sense for the communities adjacent to them.
Study after study shows that local communities close to these protected lands outperform communities without such assets. The tourism and outdoor recreation industry is thriving, while the extractive industries being catered to by monument opponents are in sharp decline.
Being genuinely pro-business and pro-free market requires looking at economic reality, now and for the future, without bias. This is practically impossible for those whose perspective is clouded by the murky world of swap politics.
Conservatives should certainly favor a balanced approach to conservation and development. However, with more than 150 million acres of federally managed land across the West already open to energy and mineral development, balance also means protecting those special places that deserve it — and keeping in mind, not all values are monetary.
America’s amazing public lands belong to all of us. These are the places we hike, fish, hunt, camp, ski, ride and paddle. These lands represent our great American heritage, they are part of who we are, and once lost, they are gone forever.
There is nothing conservative about dismantling America’s national monuments. It is contrary to local economic needs, it is not what the vast majority of Americans want, and it betrays that moral obligation President Reagan reminded us of so eloquently.
David Jenkins is President of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, and a member of the American Monuments Alliance.
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