- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

Texas Gov. George W. Bush said Thursday the White House should encourage land conservation through grants instead of forcing it by decree, even as the Clinton administration proposed more national monuments in the West.

"The federal government can lend support to local and state conservation efforts," Mr. Bush said. "But problems arise when leaders reject partnership and rely solely on the power of Washington on regulations, penalties and dictation from afar."

Mr. Bush, the likely Republican presidential nominee, outlined a five-point plan to promote conservation, including tax credits and increasing federal funding of land preservation programs by $2 billion over five years.

The campaign stop by Mr. Bush at a state park in Lake Tahoe, Nev., highlighted his differences with Vice President Al Gore on conservation, a prominent issue in six Western states that are considered in play in November.

Mr. Bush Thursday emphasized "conservation partnerships," in which states and local communities would have a prominent role in deciding how to use such land. Mr. Gore has helped preside over the second-largest set-aside of land by administration decree in U.S. history more than 3 million acres.

Thursday, the administration proposed adding another 500,000 acres to that total in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Sen. Slade Gorton, Washington Republican, said that under a Gore administration, "the people of Washington state and across our country can expect more of the same type of treatment more decisions made in Washington, D.C., without regard for the people who are affected … the most."

Western landowners and lawmakers have criticized the Clinton administration for abusing the century-old Antiquities Act by declaring unilaterally millions of acres in the West off-limits from recreation and development.

"I think presidential politics is wrapped up in all these designations, which are being made in rural, Republican areas, where there is little downside for the Gore campaign and they can appease the environmentalists," said Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings, Washington Republican.

The federal land grab, second in acreage only to that of the Carter administration, has incited a move in Congress to rewrite the law to assure local and state input. That bill, authored by Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican, would require congressional ratification of all new monument designations.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt also has recommended that Mr. Clinton create a third new monument in Arizona 134,750 acres as the Ironwood Forest National Monument.

In Colorado, Mr. Babbitt wants to turn 164,000 acres of land in the southwest part of the state into the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Mr. Babbitt also has proposed a second new monument in Oregon, 52,000 acres along the California border as the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Mr. Bush said as president he would advocate the "great national goal" of protecting natural resources and wilderness areas. But he said the Clinton administration's policy "breeds resentment and needless conflict."

"We have seen millions of acres of land declared off-limits and designated national monuments just like that, with no real public involvement and no regard for the people affected by these decrees," Mr. Bush said.

A Gore spokesman Thursday accused Mr. Bush of warming to conservation only because he's running for president.

"Governor Bush has been reinventing himself since the primary, and recasting himself as a conservationist … is the biggest stretch yet," said Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway.

He said Texas ranks 49th in state spending on parks and has acquired no new land for conservation, citing data from the League of Conservation Voters.

The 1906 Antiquities Act was established by President Theodore Roosevelt as an emergency measure to stop grave robbing in the ancient Anasazi Indian cliff dwellings, said Tina Kreisher, a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee spokeswoman.

But lawmakers and conservationists say emergency conditions do not exist on the public lands Mr. Clinton is designating as monuments, and say his motives are political, not environmental.

"Anybody who believes this has anything to do with conservation and not politics doesn't know what the meaning of the word 'is' is," said Rob Gordon, executive director of the National Wilderness Institute.

"One way for him to get past the Monica legacy is to create the public land legacy by locking up public property," said Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado Republican.

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