Department of Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Contact: Mark Pfeifle
For Immediate Release: April 22, 2003

202-208-6416


Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton
Earth Day Celebration 2003
Chapel Hill, N.C., April 22, 2003

I want to thank Jutta and the Kuenzler family for welcoming us here today for this Earth Day celebration. It truly is an honor to be here and see all of the good work your family and your many partners have done in creating a wildlife habitat preserve on your farm.

As we celebrate Earth Day, it seems like the first Earth Day in 1970 was a long time ago in another era. I suppose it was another era, although we're still wearing blue jeans and the Rolling Stones are still on tour.

We have accomplished a lot in the past three decades. Our air and water are cleaner. The bald eagle is recovering from near extinction. We've successfully dealt with a lot of the visible threats to our environment.

But in many respects, we now face the hardest part of the job of ensuring our nation's environment and natural resources are healthy and whole for future generations.

The environmental challenges we face in the 21st Century are in many ways more subtle and more difficult than we have faced in the past. They deal with managing the increasing demands on the land and the conservation of our resources - how do we meet the need to develop and expand our economy while conserving our land and its rivers, lakes, forests, and abundant wildlife?

To meet these challenges, we need cooperative conservation focused on building partnerships with states, tribes and local communities. We need to empower Americans to become citizen-conservationists on their own land.

That is why the Kuenzler family farm is so important. Laws passed in Congress and regulations put out by federal departments have an important role in conserving our natural resources and protecting our environment. But it is right here - on farms and other private property across America - where the environmental challenges of this century will be met.

This project and projects like it on private lands across America are the future of conservation in America. The best thing federal and state governments can do is to empower people like the Kuenzlers to take conservation into their own hands.

By supporting programs such as Partners for Fish and Wildlife, President Bush is committed to providing this empowerment. The President has proposed a 24 percent budget increase for the program for FY 2004. This will allow additional 2,500 landowners to participate in the program, restoring wildlife habitat on their land.

At the same time, the President is proposing to provide $900 million under the Land and Water Conservation Fund to promote conservation partnerships with states, tribes, local communities and private citizens.

He also strongly supports the Landowner Incentive Program, which assists private landowners in conserving and restoring the habitat of endangered species and other at-risk plants and animals. I recently sent $34.8 million in grants to states to be used to assist landowners under this program.

This approach is not just at the Department of the Interior. At Agriculture, the President's budget proposal for fiscal year 2004 includes almost $4 billion to implement conservation programs and programs that promote public/private partnerships.

That is close to a $600 million increase over the last year's request, and doubles the number since the President took office.

The money goes to programs like the $800 million to install conservation measures such as erosion control and water quality enhancement on more than 17 million acres of agricultural land.

We are also moving to conserve our public lands. Last week, I launched "Take Pride in America," a national partnership to empower volunteers from every corner of America to improve our parks, refuges, recreation areas and cultural and historical sites.

The program will inspire citizen stewardship through a bold and innovative communication campaign and honor outstanding volunteer efforts with presidential recognition. In addition, the program will work with governors and other partners to launch volunteer conservation projects.

The key to all of these programs is they tap into two of the greatest strengths of the American people. The first is our great love of the natural world. The second is our spirit of volunteerism.

Last month, I saw an example of this when I attended the 100th anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System at Pelican Island in Florida. The story of how a single island set aside by Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 grew to become the largest system of lands in the world set aside for wildlife is the story of the love affair America has with wild places and wild creatures.

Last year, 34 million people visited our refuges. Some 40,000 volunteered their time to work on them. We are truly a people who love the sight of a bald eagle or a flock of geese flying south for the winter. And we are willing to work hard to ensure our children and grandchildren inherit what we ourselves inherited

The key to cooperative conservation is to tap into this great love and this spirit of volunteerism. Standing here on this farm, we see what our citizens can accomplish in partnership with their government.

On Earth Day 2003, thanks to Americans like Jutta Kuenzler and her family, I am convinced the future is bright.

 

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