- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. — President Bush yesterday came to this "river of grass" to tout a 36 percent increase in federal restoration funds for the sensitive ecosystem and announce his nominee to become director of the National Park Service.
In his second environmental event in less than a week, the president outlined what he calls a "new environmentalism for the 21st century," which focuses on upgrading existing national parks while securing the rights of landowners.
"Lost, if we are careless, are the sparrows and wading birds, panthers and bears who live here, and the chance for future generations to see these creatures in the place that nature gave them," Mr. Bush said to a small gathering of invited guests. "We must meet the demands of growth, but without harming the very things that give Florida and the Everglades their beauty… . We must build and plan with respect for natures prior claims."
Mr. Bush announced he has selected Fran Maniella, directors of Floridas parks for the last 12 years, to head the National Park Service.
"She has been a steady and conscientious steward of Floridas 500,000 acres of parklands… . Under her leadership, the National Park Service will continue to do its very important work," he said.
With crocodiles lounging lazily in the swamp behind him, the president noted his 2002 budget includes $58 million more than this year to continue the Everglade Restoration Project.
The 40-year, $7.8 billion project aims to correct four decades of abuse after the Army Corps of Engineers began siphoning water out of the Everglades. With the approval of Congress, the Corps built canals and waterways to develop farmlands and divert water from South Floridas coastal areas in an attempt to increase farming and residential development.
Since then, half of the original water in the Everglades has been lost, along with half of its plants, birds, fish and animals, including the panther. Nearly 2 billion gallons of water drain from the Everglades into the sea each day, park rangers said.
Mr. Bush toured one small area of the park that was farmed from the turn of the century until 1975. There, a plant known as the Brazilian pepper, an invasive species, flourished, crowding out natural vegetation. As part of the reclamation project, the vegetation has been removed and the land returned to its natural state.
"Our job here is to be good stewards of the Everglades, to restore what has been damaged and to reduce the risk of harm," Mr. Bush said. "It is not enough to regulate and dictate from afar. To preserve places like this, we must bring to our work a new spirit of respect and cooperation, what I call a new environmentalism for the 21st century."
The subtropical wilderness covering 1.4 million acres is home to 68 endangered species, including the swallowtail butterfly, the red-cockaded woodpecker and the Florida panther.
But rangers said yesterday some species are beginning to recover as reclamation work continues.
Mr. Bush noted that legislation for the restoration project was brought by a liberal Republican senator — the late John Chaffee of Rhode Island — and passed with support from both sides of the aisle.
"Protecting the Everglades shows that bipartisanship is possible but, more importantly, crucial to doing the will of the American people," Mr. Bush said to applause.
The president, accompanied by his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, noted that the Everglades is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles live side by side.
"Im kind of hoping thats the way it gets to be in the United States Congress," he said.
Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, praised Mr. Bushs efforts but warned: "The Everglades restoration is like open-heart surgery — youd better be sure you can pay for the whole job before you start."
Mr. Bushs effort also failed to win over Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, who objects to a federal effort to examine oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off Floridas west coast.
"We will fight that to the death here," Mr. Nelson said.
Mr. Bush has made a concerted effort to portray himself as a committed environmentalist after taking a barrage of criticism over his decision to forgo an international treaty on global warming and his proposal to drill in a small section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
"The federal government has clear responsibility for the Everglades, as in each of the nearly 400 other national parks. In recent years, that obligation has sometimes been neglected. Many parks have lacked the resources they need for their basic care and maintenance.
"My administration will restore and renew Americas national parks," Mr. Bush said.


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