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A Conservative Push to Conserve Public Lands

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April 2, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - Support for many environmental causes seems to run strictly along political lines, although a group of Republicans is working to change that in Congress.

Republicans for Environmental Protection cites a list of 19 Republican-backed bills in the U.S. House that would designate new wilderness areas, conserve wetlands and fight invasive species in 14 states - but all are taking a back seat to other priorities in Congress.

The group's vice president, Jim DiPeso, says it is asking House Speaker John Boehner to help change that.

"Our mission is to move the Republican Party back toward a more centrist, mainstream stance on the environment. When we wrote the letter to Speaker Boehner, we were pointing out, 'Look, you have all these conservation bills that have Republican sponsors. Let's go ahead and pass 'em.'"

DiPaso notes that some of the nation's major environmental decisions were made by Republican presidents, from Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. He says current conservation proposals do not have to be so contentious.

Three bills to protect more miles of Oregon's wild and scenic rivers and expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area got a chilly hearing in Congress in March. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), said the efforts could restrict access for timber, mining and grazing. But DiPeso says not all GOP members share that view - and that wilderness has economic benefits, too.

"It's unfortunate, because conservation and environmental stewardship should not be a partisan issue. We all depend on clean air and clean water. We all value our national parks and the great outdoors that we all want to visit to hunt, fish, boat, hike, camp, what have you."

Some of the bills Speaker Boehner is being asked to prioritize involve public lands in California, Idaho, Nevada and Washington, says DiPeso. However, the three Oregon bills (HR 752, HR 1415 and HR 3436) have Democratic sponsors, so they are not part of the package.

More information is available at www.rep.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR