Interior Secretary Babbitt's Colorado Visit Highlights Upcoming Land Legislation

(10/08/1999) -

Defenders of Wildlife * Environmental Defense Fund
Izaak Walton League of America * National Audubon Society
National Parks & Conservation Association
National Wildlife Federation * Natural Resources Defense Council
The Wilderness Society

Prospect Park -- A coalition of the nation's largest environmental groups lauds today's planned visit by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Congressman Mark Udall and Colorado's Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Greg Walcher to Wheat Ridge Greenbelt near Prospect Park. They say the visit today will highlight an "historic" opportunity to preserve invaluable lands, wildlife, coastal areas, and cultural sites around the nation. Babbitt accompanied the officials to underscore his support for the Lands Legacy proposal.

"President Clinton, Interior Secretary Babbitt, Rep. Mark Udall, and other farsighted 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," Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen said today. Several different bipartisan House and Senate bills will be negotiated on Capitol Hill within the next few weeks.

Conservationists say they hope the final legislation will provide a permanent conservation funding source. "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," says Schlickeisen, who chairs a conservation coalition on land legacy.

The visit to Colorado open space focuses on 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. more

Mark Van Putten, President of the National Wildlife Federation, says that, "Passage of this legislation will be a landmark conservation victory ranking alongside the Clean Air and Water Acts and the Endangered Species Act."

Acreage linking parks within the Greenbelt was purchased with LWCF funds during the 1970s. More recently, the Colorado State Trails Program identified close to $4 million in urgent trail construction needs, ranging from the Denver Greenway to every corner of the state. The U.S.Interior Department requested $2.5 million to acquire more than two thousand acres in the Upper Arkansas River Basin. The Cache Creek Ranch acquisition along the Upper Arkansas contains elk habitat and is threatened by development.

Nationwide, the legislation could protect many national, state, and city parks, wildlife refuges, forests, historic, and recreational areas. These places range from large, nationally known areas like the Everglades and California Desert to favorite trails and open space in many local communities.

Examples of the kinds of special places that would be protected are featured in Saving America's Geography of Hope: Why Congress Must Protect Our Land and Ocean Legacy, recently published by a coalition of environmental organizations. The report profiles more than 40 locations in 19 states, including the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, where a window of opportunity exists to protect key parcels.

In delivering this report to Capitol Hill, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society 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.

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, new restrictions on federal land acquisition, or the use of coastal funds for environmentally damaging activities.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270