Rep. Rob Bishop is chipping away at Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy


Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop is using his position as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee to wage a war on the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, our Republican president from 1901-1909.  The latest front in this war is Bishop's plan to mangle the mission of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund helps protect hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities, while safeguarding our national parks and preserving historic sites. It is based on a very conservative idea: Use a small portion of revenue from the extraction of offshore oil and gas to conserve other natural resources. This program has served our nation well for 50 years without costing a dime of taxpayer money.

Bishop wants to replace the fund with his own radical remake, which would undermine the program by diverting much of its revenue back to the oil and gas industry and practically zeroing out the portion available to support our public lands.

Rob Bishop holds an image he says is misleading and was created by critics of his public lands proposal. Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have unveiled a draft of their plan to protect 4 million acres of Utah land in exchange for freeing up more than 1 million acres for recreation and oil and gas development.
Rick Bowmer/AP

Another Bishop target is the Antiquities Act, which Roosevelt signed into law in 1906. It was originally a Republican idea that gives the president, as well as Congress, the authority to protect publicly owned historic or natural areas as national monuments. The Republicans who introduced this law wisely recognized that presidential authority was essential, because Congress often could not act fast enough to protect historic sites or important natural areas from being plundered or developed. During his tenure, however, Bishop has introduced numerous bills to erode or eliminate the president's ability to designate monuments under the act.

Earlier this year, when President Obama named three new national monuments, Bishop went ballistic, saying it "makes states and citizens fearful that the federal government can invade at any time to seize more lands like bandits in the night." It was an odd statement, especially since the lands in question were already publicly owned.

The congressman also declared that none of the new monuments have "anything to do with an antiquity." Yet one of them, Basin and Range National Monument in Nevada, contains 2,000-year-old bristlecone pine trees and Native American rock art dating back 4,000 years. When someone pointed out the Native American rock art, Bishop famously snapped, "Ah, bullcrap. That's not an antiquity." Another is Waco Mammoth National Monument in Texas, established to preserve the fossilized remains of 24 Columbian mammoths. Unlike Bishop, Former First Lady (and native Texan) Laura Bush said she was "thrilled" with the designation.

Congressman Bishop's war on TR's legacy doesn't end there. He is pushing to surrender our nation's iconic public lands — lands that, in accordance with Roosevelt's vision, currently belong to all Americans — to state and private interests for development. He and fellow Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart launched their "Federal Land Action Group" to do just that.

Using the language of sovereign citizen extremists like Cliven Bundy, Bishop claims his group will develop a legislative strategy to "return these lands back to the rightful owners" — in other words, take them away from the American people.

That strategy was recently unveiled in Bishop's Utah "Public Lands Initiative," which he describes as "a massive land transfer." His stated objective is to make sure that public land that special interests find desirable becomes available for them to exploit for private monetary gain. This is exactly the opposite of the values espoused by Roosevelt, who proclaimed, "I do not intend that our natural resources should be exploited by the few against the interests of the many."

Congressman Bishop is on a mission. He is seeking, in his own words, "massive change" that will dismantle more than 100 years of responsible American stewardship. There is nothing conservative about that goal. Now in a position of power he has coveted for years, Bishop is determined not to waste the opportunity. He is pushing as far as he can to enact his radical agenda — and with some success: Bishop's Antiquities Act bill passed the House once.

In his day, Roosevelt knew of people like Rob Bishop, and he warned us not to follow men "whose eyes are a little too wild to make it really safe to trust them."

Immortalized on Mount Rushmore alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, TR is regarded as one of our nation's most beloved and visionary presidents. He defended capitalism, fought special interests, cut government spending and was committed to a strong national defense. But his most enduring legacy is his work to conserve America's natural and historic treasures. The future of that legacy now hinges on stopping one man's radical agenda.

David Jenkins is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is the president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national nonprofit organization.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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