Department Of Interior

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Mark Pfeifle or Hugh Vickery
June 23, 2003

A Record of Success: Meeting On-the-Ground Challenges
With On-the-Ground Solutions

(WASHINGTON) - As EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman today releases the EPA "Draft Report on the Environment," Interior Secretary Gale Norton today distributed an update of DOI initiatives that are working to protect and conserve our nation's natural, cultural and historic resources.

"President Bush and the Interior Department have accomplished real results to protect and conserve our nation's land, water and air," Secretary Norton said. "We've worked cooperatively with states, tribes, communities, conservation groups, businesses and private landowners to solve environmental challenges affecting the American people, our land and water and the wildlife that depend on them."

A sample of Interior's accomplishments, include the following:

Healthy Forests Initiative - Last summer's catastrophic fires destroyed 7.2 million acres of forests, forcing evacuation of more than 100,000 people and burning hundreds of homes. Red tape and litigation have kept foresters from thinning forests, and the forests have become overgrown. Some areas have 15 times as many trees as when Lewis and Clark explored the West. When a fire starts, it is not a healthy, low-intensity blaze that actually helps renew the forest; the dense trees fuel an inferno that destroys the forest.

The Healthy Forests Initiative applies common sense to prevent future catastrophic fires. It allows professional foresters to supervise thinning of overgrown areas without having to fight through months, and sometimes years, of red tape and litigation. The alternative is seeing our forests burn to ashes.

Last year, the U.S. Forest Service and Interior set a record with 2.25 million acres of fuel treatment work accomplished - that's a million more acres than were treated in fiscal year 2000. By the end of 2003, even more acres - 2.85 million acres - are projected to be treated.

Interior and the Forest Service worked with a bipartisan coalition of governors to finalize the 10-year National Fire Plan in May 2002. This agreement set in place the blueprint for much of the restoration work being accomplished.

Water 2025 - We face an enormous challenge meeting future water needs in the West. Demands on water in the West from a fast growing population are taxing a water distribution system with its origins in the 19th century. A long drought has aggravated the shortages.

To deal with this challenge, the administration developed "Water 2025," a cooperative initiative with states and local communities to promote conservation and efficiency in water usage while resolving disputes among competing users. Irrigation efficiencies can free up water for cities, and cities can encourage suburbanites to conserve. For example, the Las Vegas Water Authority is offering residents $1 a square foot to replace water-guzzling, grass lawns with alternate landscaping. Las Vegas saves 55 gallons of drinking water for every square foot of grass removed.

By working in cooperation with states and local governments, we can create a water conservation and distribution system in the West that meets the needs of the 21st century.

Water 2025 will invest $11 million into innovative pilot projects, such as improving water treatment technology. The first of eight regional conferences was conducted on June 6 in Denver, Colo.

Cooperative Conservation - Loss of habitat is the primary reason plants and animals become threatened and endangered and need the protection of the Endangered Species Act. The administration has made a commitment to encourage private landowners to conserve habitat on their property. In fact, the Bush administration already has far outstripped the Clinton administration in this area. The Interior Department, for example, has expanded funding for cooperative efforts with states, tribes, local governments, private landowners and others by nearly 400 percent to $520 million since 2000.

For example, the Department recently awarded 113 grants under the president's new Private Stewardship program to help landowners conserve species ranging from the bald eagle in Washington state to the whooping crane in Nebraska. Likewise, the new Landowner Incentive program provides states $34.8 million in grants to work with landowners to enhance habitat for imperiled species.

The administration also is providing additional support for long-standing efforts such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, which provides funding and technical help to landowners to conserve habitat. The president's 2004 budget includes $38.4 million for this program that has helped more than 28,700 landowners voluntarily restore habitat and increase fish and wildlife populations on 1.64 million acres of private lands.

Everglades Restoration - The administration has made a major commitment to the restoration of the "River of Grass" and the South Florida ecosystem. President Bush and Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed an historic agreement in January 2002 to restore the Everglades. The agreement is enforceable and binding and will ensure that the Everglades receives sufficient flows of clean fresh water so that it will be restored. The administration has also taken significant steps to implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) authorized by Congress in 2000, including developing the necessary programmatic regulations to guide the implementation of CERP over the next four decades. Additionally, the administration is in the process of establishing the independent scientific review panel - to be convened by the National Academy of Sciences - that will evaluate the progress being made toward achieving the natural system restoration goals of CERP.

Further, the administration is moving forward with the planning and design for several key CERP components that will benefit the ecosystem and undertaking pilot projects to resolve technological uncertainty. Also during the last year, the administration worked with the Congress to provide increased funding, and resolve legal issues, for the implementation of the Modified Water Deliveries Project to improve water flows to Everglades National Park. Nearly all of the land acquisitions necessary to acquire the East Everglades Addition to Everglades National Park are completed and updates to the general management plans for Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park are now underway to ensure the protection and restoration of, and continued visitor access and enjoyment, for these resources.

In addition, the administration reached agreement to acquire the Collier oil and gas holdings in Big Cypress National Preserve, which will protect that resource for future generations. The Interior Department has also boosted funding to combat invasive species that threaten the Everglades, virtually eliminated melaleuca at Big Cypress and undertaken efforts to implement recovery actions for the endangered Key Deer and address endangered species issues on a multi-species basis, including hosting an avian workshop on key endangered avian species, including the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow.

Restoring Our National Parks and Wildlife Refuges - President Bush has pledged to improve national parks and preserve park resources, proposing more than $1 billion in 2004 to tackle a long-standing maintenance and natural resource backlog. Since FY 2002, the Interior Department has provided nearly $2.9 billion to address the $4.9 billion backlog. This has funded nearly 900 repair and rehabilitation projects, with another 500 projects under way in 2003. For example, the National Park Service spent $2.1 million to replace a wastewater treatment plant at Yellowstone and to relocate the Old Faithful sewer line.

Likewise, President Bush celebrated the 100th anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System by proposing a $33.6 million increase in the system's budget for FY 2004. This is the second major increase in two years; the president initiated a $48.4 million budget increase for refuges in 2003. If enacted by Congress, the $402 million request for FY 2004 would represent more than a doubling of the refuge systems' budget since 1997.

Take Pride in America - Based on a program created by President Reagan and expanded by President George H. W. Bush, Secretary Norton re-inaugurated Take Pride in April 2003. Take Pride will inspire a nation of citizen stewards through volunteerism to care for our nation's cultural and natural resources.



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