As Committee Republicans Filibuster Land and Water Conservation Fund, Democrats Send Letter to Bishop Setting the Record Straight

Washington, D.C. – In response to Chairman Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) intentionally confrontational Oct. 7 letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack demanding publicly available information on the Land and Water Conservation Fund – a popular, bipartisan program Bishop let expire on Sept. 30 – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Democratic members of the House Natural Resources Committee sent the chairman a letter today answering his questions and highlighting the need for an end to House Republicans’ filibuster of the program.

Despite promises since the beginning of this Congress to renew the LWCF, Bishop has yet to offer a bill that lays out the unspecified reforms he continues to demand. Bishop became angry at Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) at today’s Committee markup when Huffman offered an amendment to renew the Fund. Bishop once again refused to guarantee a vote on a clean reauthorization despite Huffman’s express request. You can watch video highlights of that exchange at http://bit.ly/1L1LbEn.

Today’s letter lays out the multiple ways in which Bishop’s laborious demands for information could be satisfied with references to publicly available information. In response to Bishop’s claim that “land management agencies are focusing almost solely on new [property] acquisitions” while other aspects of their responsibilities are “languishing,” the Democratic letter points out that “[a] quick review of the FY 2015 budget requests for the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service reveals that those agencies’ requests for federal land acquisition account for 1.8%, 1.9%, 2.8% and .8%, respectively, of their overall budget requests. Given these percentages, this concern is unfounded.”

Similarly, the letter shows why Bishop’s concern about the scope of federal land ownership is completely misguided and ahistorical. The letter points out that in the late 1860s

the federal government owned 1.8 billion of the 2.3 billion acres in the contiguous United States. Grants to states, homesteaders, land-grant colleges, railroads, and others settling Alaska and the West, reduced federal land ownership to roughly 640 million, often fragmented, acres today.

This fragmented ownership is indeed a significant management challenge as it places public lands – as much as four million acres by some estimates – off-limits to the public because they are surrounded by non-federal lands. LWCF funding, which is targeted at acquiring in-holdings, is the only program dedicated to addressing this problem.

Rather than commit to a vote on Grijalva’s HR 1814, which would cleanly reauthorize the Fund and end the politicization of a popular, previously uncontroversial program, Bishop has signaled that he will not reauthorize what he calls an “administration slush fund.” He has not laid out a timetable for a vote on his yet-to-be-introduced alternative bill.

The letter was signed by Grijalva and Reps. Matt Cartwright, Jared Huffman, Ruben Gallego, Madeleine Bordallo, Alan Lowenthal, Grace Napolitano, Jared Polis, Niki Tsongas and Lois Capps. You can read the full version at http://1.usa.gov/1LkhEap

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