Department of the Interior


Office of the Secretary
June 26, 2006

Joan Moody (DOI) 202-208-6416
Ed Lloyd (USDA) 202-720-4623
Jeff Donald (NOAA) 303-482-6090
Jessica Emond (EPA) 202-420-8651
Top Administration Officials and Conservation Leaders
Meet to Discuss Cooperative Conservation

Meeting Advances 2005 White House Conference Goals

WASHINGTON — Today Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson and Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere/NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher met with diverse leaders from the private sector to discuss concepts for proposed cooperative conservation legislation.

Hosted by the White House, the meeting brought the cabinet members together with approximately 50 representatives of organizations that attended the 2005 White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation in St. Louis, Mo. Participants included conservationists, public land users, ranchers, farmers and others. The meeting continued a series of actions called for in a 2004 Executive Order by President Bush entitled Facilitation of Cooperative Conservation. The order directs federal agencies to implement laws relating to the environment and natural resources in a manner that promotes cooperative conservation, with an emphasis on involving local communities.

The 2005 conference—the first White House conference of its kind in four decades--brought together more than 1,300 leaders from across the nation—from cities, reservations and rural towns; from Alaska to Florida, from Maine to California. They represented conservation groups and private-sector companies; local, state, tribal and federal agencies; recreation enthusiasts; ranchers, farmers, hunters and anglers.

The legislative concepts discussed at today’s meeting build on many of the suggestions and ideas garnered at the 2005 White House conference. “This meeting represents another step in launching a new conservation dialogue and philosophy for the 21st century,” said Secretary of the Interior Kempthorne. “We hope to build on the legacy of President Theodore Roosevelt, who pioneered America’s commitment to conservation and convened the first White House Conservation Conference in 1908.”

Since the conference in St. Louis, the Departments of Agriculture, the Interior, Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency have been developing an interagency package of proposed legislation that will achieve high-priority environmental goals through cooperative conservation.

Included in the legislative package under discussion today were four proposals focusing on improving forest health, enhancing marine and coastal habitat, promoting landscape-scale conservation, and cleaning up abandoned hardrock mining sites.

“These legislative concepts will enhance our ability to protect homes, communities, and the environment from wildfire while improving the health of the land,” said Secretary Johanns. “This meeting is part of our effort to ensure our national forests are good neighbors to those with whom we share boundaries as we work to implement the Healthy Forests Initiative.”

“From improving habitat and rebuilding fishery stocks to helping to mitigate the effect of drought, NOAA has relied on partnerships to help achieve many of its missions,” said Retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, undersecretary of Commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “This focus on cooperative conservation will significantly help us in these important efforts.”

"Environmental responsibility is everyone's responsibility, and President Bush and EPA are equipping America's eager army of citizen conservationists with the essential tools to protect our shared environment," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "Through the Good Samaritan legislation, President Bush is clearing legal roadblocks to restore America's watersheds."

To continue today’s dialogue, a summary of the key legislative concepts is being sent to all White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation conferees, with a request for comments and ideas.

Highlights of each legislative concept discussed today include:

A Good Samaritan Clean Watershed Act (formally released): More than a half-million abandoned mine sites scar both public and private lands throughout the United States. The draft proposed bill would allow individuals and organizations who are not responsible for the pollution, but are willing to participate in voluntary remediation projects, to do so without fear of undue liability under the Clean Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

Cooperative Conservation Enhancement Act: This proposed legislation will advance the goals of the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) model of cooperative conservation. The bill will provide the Secretary of the Interior with increased flexibility to enter into partnerships with private individuals, companies, organizations and government entities. These partnerships enable the department to achieve its conservation goals on a landscape scale and resolve environmental and natural resources disputes.

Healthy Forests Partnership Act: The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are proposing the Healthy Forests Partnership Act to expand our nation's capacity to improve forest and rangeland health through cost-efficient partnerships at the state and local levels.

Cooperative Conservation of Marine, Estuarine, Coastal and Riverine Habitat Act: This proposed draft legislation would authorize the Secretary of Commerce to enter into cooperative partnerships and regional plans to support marine, estuarine, coastal, and riverine habitat protection and restoration. It will advance the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) model of cooperative conservation.