Rep. Rob Bishop uses a common refrain for justifying his effort to exempt the military from periodic environmental reviews of a handful of its ranges located on public lands.
“This is the bottom line: Nothing ever changes,” he told the House Armed Services Committee last year.
The Utah Republican, who sits on Armed Services and heads the House Natural Resources Committee, says the Pentagon wastes millions of dollars on assessments of the ranges every 25 years just to maintain the status quo. But critics say Bishop’s proposed solution is unnecessary and actually would increase the military’s burden.
For two years running, Bishop has sparked controversy by trying to insert language into the National Defense Authorization Act that could allow the services to keep using public lands set aside for the military but without any Interior Department oversight.
The provision singles out the largest wildlife refuge in the Lower 48 states, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. The Air Force jointly manages roughly 850,000 acres of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 1.6 million acres of sagebrush sprawl.
Democrats and environmentalists say Bishop’s amendment would give the Air Force unfettered control over part of a refuge meant as protected habitat for bighorn sheep and endangered animals.
Bishop has consistently refuted those claims, saying he only wants to exempt the military from “silly” reviews of how the land is used. “The sad situation is nothing ever changes,” he told the House Armed Services Committee again this year.
Bishop’s claims about the assessments, however, do not hold up.
The Air Force took primary control of more than 100,000 acres of DNWR during the most recent assessment in 1999. The land is now a bombing range.
With the next review due to Congress by 2021, the Air Force is already eyeing construction of a radar and communications network in another section of the refuge, a designated wilderness study area.
Environmentalists say those facts, coupled with a close reading of Bishop’s amendment language, belie his true intentions.