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Bernhardt Would Be Another Disaster At Interior

Back in 2016, candidate Donald Trump said he opposed a Republican bill designed to grease the wholesale transfer of America’s public lands to states. “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great,” he told Field & Stream, “and you don’t know what the state is going to do.”

It turned out that, on the contrary, Trump very much liked the idea. He got to work on it in his first month as president. And he named Ryan Zinke, a zealot for privatizing public land, as the head of the Interior Department. The remarkably corrupt Zinke had to resign. Trump now wants Zinke’s No. 2, David Bernhardt, to take over Interior and continue the mission.

With Bernhardt’s help, the administration radically shrunk two national monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Formerly an oil and mining lobbyist, Bernhardt also drafted the plan to open over 9 million acres of sage grouse habitat to oil, gas and mining. The sage grouse is a candidate for the endangered species list. And the companies would no longer have to pay into a habitat protection fund.

Here’s how the game works: First give the land to the states. When that happens, the bills for fire control and other land management go to state taxpayers. State officials then say: “We can’t afford that. We’d have to raise taxes.” So they sell the gorgeous Western scenery to the world’s superrich. Other acres go to oil and gas companies at bargain prices. These are the interests that had been funding the politicians all along.

“No trespassing” signs rapidly appear. And the American people — hikers, dog walkers, paddlers, hunters, anglers — lose their right to a natural heritage that used to be free.

Many Western politicians talk as though the federal government grabbed the land within their state borders. They have it backward. The federal government owned that land before their states were states. Of course, local needs should be taken into account in deciding how that land is used. Fortunately, the federal government provides for a good deal of community input.

Whattabout Barack Obama? Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, a Bernhardt fan, charged that Obama’s interior secretary Sally Jewell had worked for an oil company. Jewell did work as an oil engineer for three years. She then went to Rainier Bank, which she advised to steer clear of the oil and gas sector (good counsel at the time). Her big job, however, was chief operating officer of REI, seller of outdoors gear.

Outdoor recreation companies are avid promoters of protecting the environment, for obvious reasons. They are also an $887 billion-a-year industry employing 7.6 million Americans, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

The Obama administration did designate some sensitive public land for industrial purposes but with greater restrictions on construction of pipelines and roads. Drilling during sage grouse mating season was banned.

To obscure his controversial history, Bernhardt has been playing the hunter’s best friend. He talks a lot about “considering” protections for big game species. He just announced he’d expand a Zinke-era order to protect migration corridors.

As we’ve learned, orders are not actions. In the year since the order, nearly 20 percent of the Interior Department leases to oil and gas have been within these corridors. In New Mexico, 82 percent of the leases threaten mule deer, elk and pronghorn migrations. The slashing of Bears Ears opens a premier elk hunting area to industrialization.

And don’t you love that picture of the bearded Washington, D.C., lobbyist out in the field in camo, landing a moose?

With Republicans holding a Senate majority, Bernhardt’s confirmation is all but guaranteed. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Commoners’ Right To Hunt Under Threat

In Olde England, hunting was the privilege of the landed and the rich. The right to hunt depended on the number of acres owned or one’s income.

This inequity led English jurist William Blackstone to complain in the late 18th century that “50 times as much property (is required) to enable a man to kill a partridge as to vote for a knight of the shire.”

English colonists settling America wanted no part of the old country’s class-based rules. Anyone could hunt or fish in America.

But that is slowly changing, as the rich and politically connected employ new tactics to close off opportunities for hunting and fishing to the common folk. The most intense conflicts between the wealthy and locals are taking place in the American West — where there’s room for everyone, or so we thought.

First, a plea to non-hunting environmentalists to join sportsmen in the battle to preserve access to wildlife. Ordinary hunters seeking sport or food were not to blame for the near loss of the bison and the extinction of such species as the passenger pigeon, heath hen and Labrador duck.

The villains were commercial hunters who slaughtered wildlife for profit, shipping millions of hides, feathers and racks of game meat to American and foreign markets. Hunters started the American conservation movement over a century ago to stop the destruction.

Today, the biggest threat to wildlife is loss of habitat, a concern for all environmentalists. Another issue, the movement to privatize public lands, should also link hunters and vegan hikers in common cause.

Back to the politics.

In Montana, public access to the state’s wildlife now dominates the governor’s race. On one side, incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is fighting private efforts to close off hunting and fishing grounds that Montanans have enjoyed for generations.

On the other, Republican Greg Gianforte is seeking to empower big landowners (like himself) to limit such access. In 2009, he sued the state to remove a public easement that gave anglers, walkers and others access to the East Gallatin River via his property. He accused the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks of using “extortion” to keep that river path open.

Through much of the rural West, wealthy out-of-state buyers are amassing huge tracts of land to create their personal duchies. (Gianforte is a multimillionaire from New Jersey.) They often break with the neighborly ways of an older West where landowners didn’t fret much over locals’ crossing their property.

The North American Wildlife Conservation Model is clearly under threat. Formulated by a group of wildlife biologists about 20 years ago, it regulates hunting, protects habitat and defends the right of every citizen to hunt and fish.

Colorful misfits like rancher Cliven Bundy make headlines for occupying federal land, but of more concern are serious proposals to turn land owned by all Americans over to state politicians and allied moneyed interests. Calling this a “land grab” is not an exaggeration.

The 2016 Republican Party platform officially calls for handing federal lands to the states. That’s after Utah passed a bill in 2012 demanding that more than 20 million acres of federal land be transferred to state officials. Eleven Western states have considered 37 similar bills. Six of them got through.

Happily, there has been pushback. Lawmakers in Wyoming and Oregon turned thumbs down to the awful (and radical) idea. Colorado and New Mexico actually passed bills affirming support for national forests, parks and wildlife refuges.

The battles over public lands and access to wildlife will rage on — among mining companies, Native Americans, sportsmen and their fellow environmentalists. We must not let money determine the outcome.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached atfharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington