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Public Lands Enemy #1

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As I have said a few times here, the Republican reaction to the Bundy occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is to embrace their policy positions, if not their direct action politics. Of course, that has been the policy of most western Republicans for a long time. No one personifies this anti-public lands attitude more than Utah congressman Rob Bishop, who will seek any opportunity to privatize all of the nation’s public land, even in areas he doesn’t care about like Puerto Rico.

A new bill to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is drawing fire over a controversial provision that would enable the sale and private development of thousands of acres in the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge.

The provision, authored by Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), would give 3,100 acres of the popular wildlife refuge to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to sell off to private interests. Right now, the wildlife refuge is protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but in the hands of private interests, it could end up being developed — a scenario that could threaten the species that call the refuge home.

Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is the largest and one of the most ecologically diverse refuges in the Caribbean. It is home to at least 14 endangered animals and plants and many other endemic species, and provides important habitat for 190 species of migratory and resident birds.

Bishop’s proposal to dispose of a portion of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge met immediate resistance from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “I think we need to be very, very careful,” Jewell said over the weekend while visiting Puerto Rico. “Giving up public lands or natural areas to development is not synonymous with economic growth and development.”

Bishop has repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to sell off national forests and other federally-managed natural areas around the country. In addition to sponsoring a bill that would dispose of 40,000 acres of public land in Utah, he organized an “action group” to sell off national public lands, and has sympathized with the armed militants who took over the Malhuer National Wildife Refuge earlier this year.

The proposal to dispose of a portion of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge could create an impediment to the passage of the broader debt relief bill. Puerto Rico did not request that the land be put up for development; disposing of the refuge won’t address the debt crisis; and selling off public lands repeatedly polls as an overwhelmingly unpopular idea. Similar proposals to dispose of or sell national public lands have attracted fierce opposition from hunting and fishing groups, the outdoor industry, conservation organizations, and others.

It’s all ideology with these people. Governance is irrelevant. Bishop doesn’t care about Puerto Rico’s debt issues. He just wants to destroy the ability of the public to enjoy public lands. Quite a principle.

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