Babbitt Manassas Visit Highlights Upcoming Land Legislation

(09/23/1999) - Conservationists say that Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt’s visit to the Manassas National Battlefield Park in Manassas, Virginia, today highlights an historic opportunity to preserve not only Civil War sites but also invaluable lands, wildlife, and coastal areas elsewhere in the region and the nation.

"President Clinton, Interior Secretary Babbitt, and some legislators in both parties are presenting the country with an historic opportunity to protect the nation’s most valuable but unprotected natural and cultural sites through the President’s Land Legacy proposal; several similar bipartisan House and Senate bills will be negotiated on Capitol Hill within the next few weeks," Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen said today. "These proposals could provide a permanent conservation funding source from offshore oil leasing revenues. After spending the past four years fighting partisan efforts by Congress to undermine environmental protections, conservation groups at last have a positive, bipartisan initiative to promote. There is even a chance of success if the final negotiated legislation can be kept free of environmentally damaging provisions."

In touring the battlefield and adjoining land that still needs to be acquired by the National Park Service, Babbitt highlighted the need for congressional approval of guaranteed money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is the federal government’s chief vehicle for helping communities protect historic sites and open space from development and sprawl. If properly written, the legislation would make good on a 25-year-old promise to spend federal offshore lease revenues earmarked for preserving the natural landscape.

To acquire other tracts that are part of Civil War history in the region, funds are also needed at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia (including land at Chancellorsville and some used during the Battle of the Wilderness) and Antietam and Monocacy battlefields in Maryland. The many natural areas with parcels in need of protection through the LWCF include Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland and Prince William Forest Park in Virginia.

A coalition of environmental groups recently released a report on Land Legacy called Saving America's Geography of Hope: Why Congress Must Protect Our Land and Ocean Legacy. By profiling more than 40 locations in 19 states, this report illustrates the kinds of special places that could be protected.

In delivering this report to Capitol Hill, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Defenders of Wildlife, and others said that Congress has an historic opportunity to protect and restore our "geography of hope" as it considers several different versions of conservation bills designed to fund many programs benefitting national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, historic sites, coastal and marine ecosystems, and wildlife.

Among these bills are the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) (S.25/H.R.701) and the Permanent Protection of America's Resources 2000 Act (Resources 2000) (S.446/H.R.798), both of which would, to varying extents, provide a much-needed source of annual funding for a diversity of important conservation initiatives including the Land and Water Conservation Fund and programs to protect wildlife. In particular, Resources 2000 would fund a multitude of conservation programs, including open space, farmland, forest, and historic preservation programs.

But the groups say that as Congress works to develop these proposals into a single piece of enacted legislation, there also is a threat that the final product might include such unacceptable provisions as: incentives for offshore oil and gas drilling; facilitation of the use of coastal funds for environmentally harmful activities; an inequitable distribution of funds that gives states with offshore oil and gas production disproportionately high funding and those that do not have offshore production disproportionately low funding; and serious restrictions on land acquisition. These harmful provisions, which currently are found in the introduced version of CARA, must be corrected in final legislation.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270