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October 14, 2009
Op-Ed and Speech

Bishop Wages Land Battle
October 12, 2009
By Ellyn Ferguson, CQ Weekly

Utah's conservative Republican Rep. Rob Bishop is no fan of the National Landscape Conservation System, one of several agencies that sequesters land in his state from development, and he has been suspicious for more than a year that the NLCS is too cozy with private conservation groups.

Now a report by the Interior Department's acting inspector general, Mary L. Kendall, has confirmed the congressman's suspicions, although there won't be much of a consequence.

"I can say I was right," Bishop declared.

The IG's yearlong investigation focused largely on contacts between NLCS staff members and the National Wildlife Federation, an environmentalist group, and found that the relationship "gave the appearance of federal employees being less than objective and created the potential for conflicts of interest or violations of law."

Kendall forwarded her findings to the U.S. Attorney's office as a violation of the Lobbying with Appropriated Moneys Act, which restricts advocacy by employees of the executive branch. But she was informed there were no criminal penalties for violating the law.

The investigation actually began a year ago on a complaint from officials at the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the roughly 27 million acres of national monuments and conservation areas, wilderness, and wild and scenic rivers that are part of the landscape conservation system. The lands include Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument.

BLM officials thought NLCS managers might have violated the anti-lobbying statute because of their close ties to advocacy groups.

Bishop is wary of further federal land expansion in the West and derides the NLCS as unnecessary. Clinton administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, from neighboring Arizona, created the office in 2000 using his administrative power, and Congress set it in statute only six months ago. Conservation groups lobbied for the change.

Encouraged by the inspector general's findings, Bishop has already picked out his next targets: The National Park Service and the private National Parks Conservation Association, where Craig Obey, a son of the House Appropriations Committee chairman, works as a lobbyist.