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Bishop: Who owns the West?

September 24, 2012
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, longtime critic of the federal government's management of public lands, bought the Uintah Basin Energy Summit to a rowdy close.

"Public land was never planned, it just sort of happened," Bishop said.

The federal government owns roughly 660 million acres in the United States, or 1 out of every 2 acres in the West, according to the five-term congressman.

Much of that land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which was organized in the 1930s to inventory and dispose of public lands.

Initially intended as multiple use lands the "BLM has morphed into something else" he claims.

Congress changed the management policies in the 1970s establishing a policy of conservation of public lands.

Today, another policy change looms with wilderness mandates and conservation landscapes said Bishop warning of the "coming paradigm shift."

One third of America is federally-owned, "the West cannot exist half-colonized and half-free," he said, noting more than 90 percent the lands are located in the West.

Under the circumstances, Bishop called for changing management policies relating to public lands to involve more input from Westerners.

"If you're going to have significant economic development you have to have affordable and ample energy. And, in the State of Utah, if you're going to have energy development, its going have to involve public lands," Bishop said.

Right now, the federal government spends between $8 and $9 billion to manage public lands in the West.

"It's your money, it's coming right out of your wallet. Why not just cut out the middle man, keep the money here, get rid of the redundancy and control the process at the same time?" he asked, as the room erupted in applause.

In March, Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 148 into law demanding that the federal government turn over 30 million acres of public lands to the state.

During the press conference at its signing Bishop told reporters that for the "sake of our kids, we need to develop the resources that are here."

Utah needs access says the congressman to properly fund infrastructure and education because they lack the tax base available through private property.