Prominent Scientists Support Land Legacy

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Resources 2000 Legislation

(04/22/1999) - Defenders of Wildlife released an Earth Day letter from prominent scientists that the organization says underscores calls by Vice President Gore and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt today for a national Lands Legacy Initiative to protect habitat, wildlife, and important natural and historic landscapes.

In the letter, addressed to the Vice President and Members of Congress, the scientists expressed strong support for legislation that would expand on the Administration's initiative to acquire state and federal lands for wildlife habitat. The 17 prominent scientists commended the sponsors of a number of different land bills and pointed out two bills, entitled "Resources 2000," that would meet their "criteria for effective legislation to fund these important programs": one sponsored by Representative George Miller (D-CA) and one by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

"Earth Day is a good day to praise the Vice President's and Interior Secretary's longstanding leadership on the environment and their keen appreciation for conservation based on science," said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen. "These scientists have provided a clear message about the best way to implement the vision of the Land Legacy and we hope both the Congress and the Administration will take heed. Vice President Gore and Secretary Babbitt recognize that Earth Day is about much more than planting trees and recycling, but over the past few years many Members of Congress have marked the day by delivering environmental rhetoric while supporting anti-environmental legislation. The scientists will not put up with green-washing -- they've outlined how to take action." Gore spoke from Shenandoah National Park and Babbitt from Gettysburg.

The 17 scientists who signed the letter include Edward Wilson of Harvard University; P. Dee Boersma, President of the Society for Conservation Biology; Ronald Pulliam, former head of the National Biological Survey under the Clinton Administration; and Daniel Simberloff at the University of Tennessee.

The legislation to which they refer would provide more than $2 billion per year in permanent, annual funding for federal and state land and marine conservation. Included would be as much as $450 million per year in funding to states to conserve wild species. "As scientists who have studied ecology and conservation biology throughout our lives," the letter says, "we can think of no greater priority for maintaining our natural heritage than this historic opportunity to provide dedicated funding for land and resource conservation."

Similar bills sponsored by Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and John Dingell (D-MI), and by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Frank Murkowski (R-AK) include incentives for offshore oil drilling and inappropriate restrictions on the use of funds for land acquisition. In contrast, Miller's and Boxer's bills contain provisions to promote large-scale habitat planning efforts at the state level and voluntary conservation efforts by private landowners for threatened and endangered species. While commending the commitment of all these Members of Congress, the scientists stress, "Currently only H.R. 798 (Miller) and S. 446 (Boxer) meet our criteria for effective legislation to fund these important programs."

Dr. Mark Shaffer, Vice President for Program at Defenders of Wildlife and a signatory to the letter, said "Scientists have agreed that threats to the Earth's natural heritage are on a scale that could not have been imagined 50 years ago. Vice President Gore is calling for a major national movement to address these threats, and the legislation we've supported is the best means of implementing that vision."

In his remarks today, the Vice President urged Congress to fully fund the environmental priorities in the President's FY 2000 budget, including the Lands Legacy initiative, the largest one-year investment ever proposed for the protection of America's land and marine resources.

To continue these efforts through the next century, the President and Vice President are calling for this funding to be permanent beginning in FY 2001. The Miller-Boxer bills would provide $2.3 billion a year. Yesterday, Senator John Chaffee (R-RI) and Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) announced that Republicans in Congress also were making enactment of a major new land-conservation initiative, with mandatory annual funding, their top environmental legislative priority.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270