It was an early spring day and I sat in my dentist's waiting room. The only magazine that looked even half interesting proved to be the latest issue of Field and Stream. What I thought would be a benign thumbing through the pages led me out of state to a lawmaker I'd never heard of before.
Rob Bishop is a congressman from Utah in his seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2010 Bishop was one of the conservative House members who launched something called the Tenth Amendment Task Force. For those who don't remember the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, it says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
We'll get to how the Tenth Amendment can be turned against the people, but first some of Congressman Bishop's legislative ideas. He is a major proponent of increasing energy production within the United States. Want to guess about Bishop's largest campaign contributors? That's right, oil and gas companies.
In February 2011, Bishop introduced an amendment that would have prohibited the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from spending federal funds on the National Landscape Conservation System. The National Landscape Conservation System protects, among other things, the 2,272 acres of islets, reefs, and outcroppings off the California coast and the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. An avalanche of criticism caused Bishop to withdraw the amendment before it came to a vote.
More or less undaunted, in 2013 Bishop introduced the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act (H.R. 1459 of the 113th Congress). This bill would amend the Antiquities Act of 1906 so that national monument declarations by the President would become subject to Congressional action under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). Currently the President of the United States may unilaterally declare something a national monument, whereas Congress must follow a more rigorous series of procedures before establishing something like a national park.
In addition to limiting the number of national monument declarations the president is permitted to make, Bishop's bill forbids the government from declaring land belonging to a private owner as a national monument without the private owner's consent. Congressman Bishop has argued that "the American people deserve the opportunity to participate in land-use decisions regardless of whether they are made in Congress or by the President." He claims his new bill would ensure "that new national monuments are created openly with consideration of public input."
Enter Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. During 2013 and 2014 the leading groups of contributors to her campaign funds could be listed under these three types: electric utilities, oil and gas companies, and lobbyists. As Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate at the beginning of 2015, Murkowski was named chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. As that powerful committee chair, in late March, she brought to the floor of the Senate an amendment to a budget bill. Her proposal would support and fund the concept that state's would take over ownership of this nation's public lands, including all national forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, historic sites, and national monuments.
Where did Murkowski get the idea? Of course, it was Rob Bishop, who has authored a House proposal to spend $50 million of taxpayer money to fund the transfer of public lands to the states. Fortunately, Murkowski’s amendment still needs further legislation to become law. However, when amendments have been passed on the floors of Congress we're talking serious business.
The April issue of Field and Stream told its readers about Utah Senator Mike Lee who has informed his constituents he prefers to protect interests other than hunters and anglers, rafters, backpackers and campers by introducing a measure allowing the sale or transfer of national forests, wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges and historical sites.
Field and Stream went on to point out that legislators like Lee, Bishop, Murkowski, and others have used the excuse that public lands need to be sold to eliminate government deficits or balance the budget. F & S continues: "This is alarming for three reasons: First, it basically removes any restrictions on how much public land could be sold. With the national debt at $18 trillion and growing, every acre of fish and wildlife habitat would qualify; second, selling off public land will increase the deficit, not reduce it, because it will rob the national treasury of $30 billion in annual tax receipts from a $646 billion industry supporting some 6 million jobs. When the public lands go, so does most of that outdoors recreation; third, no one can truly believe Congress will only approve sales that send money directly to the treasury for the purpose of reducing the debt. Extractive industries such as energy and mining will quickly make the case that their use of our land will add jobs and tax dollars to the feds."
Murkowski and Lee are members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, a group supposedly looking out for hunters, anglers, outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen. Yet every major sportsman’s conservation group opposes selling off public property that helps make, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping and backpacking possible.
A petition targeted at stopping the seizure of public lands is available online at: sportsmensaccess.org.