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Wilderness and Wildlife That Could Be Protected with Conservation Funding Legislation

(09/08/1999) -

U.S. PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP
(U.S. PIRG) * DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE * SIERRA CLUB
CENTER FOR MARINE CONSERVATION
TRUST FOR PUBLIC LAND * WORLD WILDLIFE
FUND * SCENIC AMERICA * ENVIRONMENTAL
DEFENSE FUND * NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE
COUNCIL * NATIONAL PARKS AND CONSERVATION
ASSOCIATION * THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
THE NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION

More than 40 special places in 19 states could be protected if Congress passes strong conservation funding legislation according to "Saving America's Geography of Hope: Why Congress Must Protect Our Land and Ocean Legacy," a report released today by U.S. PIRG, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Center for Marine Conservation, Trust for Public Land, World Wildlife Fund, Scenic America, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks and Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society and The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

This report illustrates the kinds of places that could be protected if strong conservation funding legislation became a reality.

"Millions of acres of America's natural heritage have been degraded, destroyed and developed. All across the country, historic structures are in disrepair, parks are closing, farmland and open space are disappearing, and wildlife is declining. We must protect these wild and special places," declared Kim Delfino, U.S. PIRG staff attorney and editor of the report. "With Congress returning for the conclusion of the session, there is an opportunity to pass a strong conservation funding bill. This opportunity will be lost if some members of Congress are successful in attaching environmentally damaging provisions, or 'poison pills,' to the final legislation," added Delfino.

"This report shows that the opportunity before this Congress to protect some of America's greatest natural and cultural treasures is nothing short of historic," says Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife and chair of the conservation CEO task force on conservation funding. "For the first time in decades, we have a situation that presents both a budget surplus and a growing bipartisan belief that we should use some of this money to protect our land and wildlife. The test, however, of the legislation's success will be whether it provides permanent full funding for conservation without encouraging environmental destruction. Will it provide a lasting legacy or a greenwashing that fades away?"

Congress is currently considering several different versions of conservation legislation to fund a variety of programs benefiting our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, historic sites, coastal and marine ecosystems, and wildlife. The two main proposals are the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) of 1999 (S.25/H.R. 701), introduced by Senators Frank Murkowski (AK) and Mary Landrieu (LA) and Representatives Don Young (AK) and Billy Tauzin (LA), and Permanent Protection for America's Resources 2000 (Resources 2000 - S.446/H.R. 798), introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) and Representative George Miller (CA).

"All too often, land conservation is about protecting the 'leftovers' after the best of our landscapes are already gone. But across the country people are working to get ahead of the curve, to give our park lands a decent head-start - and to make the right investments in our future," said Will Rogers, president for the Trust for Public Land.

"Strong conservation funding legislation could provide a critically important source of funding for the nation's most important historic preservation programs," said Kitty Higgins, vice president of public policy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Comprehensive battlefield protection at Gettysburg could be established and significant acreage at the Glorieta Pass Battle site in New Mexico could be acquired if a strong bill is enacted. Without it, some of the country's most cherished cultural and historic treasures could be seriously damaged or lost forever," added Higgins.

Other places profiled in this report include California's Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the Big Sur coastline, Colorado's San Juan Mountains, Iowa's Loess Hills, the New Jersey Highlands, Maryland's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, New Hampshire's White Mountains, North Carolina's Outer Banks, and Florida's Everglades.

"With this legislation, Congress can bestow a timeless millenium gift on America: a commitment to protect our nation's scenic beauty and distinctive community character for generations to come," said Meg Maguire, president of Scenic America.

This legislation is threatened, however, by the attempts of members of Congress to attach poison pills to the final legislation. These poison pills, many of which are found in the introduced version of CARA, include incentives for increased offshore oil and gas drilling, the use of coastal funds for environmentally destructive activities, and new restrictions on federal land acquisition already authorized by law.

"Congress should provide permanent funding for the protection of our living marine resources and coastal waters using a portion of offshore oil and gas revenues, without adding incentives for new offshore drilling or subsidizing harmful coastal development," said Roger McManus, president of the Center for Marine Conservation. "We look forward to a final bill that invests in our public lands without adding unnecessary delays and obstacles to the process, and without promoting offsetting environmental degradation," added Will Rogers, Trust for Public Land.

The House Resources Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee are expected to vote on a conservation funding proposal this month. The Clinton Administration has indicated strong support for permanent conservation funding, which will be important as this bill is further negotiated throughout the legislative process.

"From elk hunters to soccer moms, preserving park land and open space is recognized as essential to enjoying a better quality of life. It is time Congress understood that need too," said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks and Conservation Association.

"Congress must respond to the demands of the American people. In scores of local elections last November, citizens voted overwhelmingly to protect and restore our last open spaces and wild places. Congress ignores these citizen mandates for wildlands protection at their own peril," concluded Melanie Griffin, Sierra Club Director of Land Protection Programs.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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