- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said that the Endangered Species Act has consequences beyond the environment, affecting people's everyday lives.
Mrs. Norton, capping her first year on the job, said in an exclusive interview that the Bush administration is striving to protect wildlife without hurting economic growth.
"The Endangered Species Act has a tremendous impact on land management and jobs in many localities, and we take very seriously our responsibility to protect endangered species," Mrs. Norton said.
"We are trying to find solutions that will work in the long run to minimize the conflict," she said. "I think there are ways to have great protections for endangered species and a strong economy."
Mrs. Norton faced a nasty public relations attack from environmental groups during her Senate confirmation and was labeled "James Watt in a skirt," a reference to President Reagan's interior secretary, who frequently opposed environmental activists.
A coalition of 18 environmental groups placed ads in The Washington Times that said she was "so far on the fringe [that] she's off the page."
The harsh rhetoric fell silent after her Jan. 30 confirmation until early summer, when she took the lead as the administration's spokeswoman for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
Environmental groups accused her of providing false information in a letter to Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, Alaska Republican, on the effects of drilling on caribou.
However, after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, environmentalists called a truce and toned down their criticism of the administration. The Sierra Club said in a Sept. 12 memo that it will "stop aggressively pushing our agenda and will cease bashing President Bush."
"We strongly need to avoid any perceptions that we are being disrespectful to President Bush. Now is a time for rallying together as a nation; the public will judge very harshly any groups whom they view as violating this need for unity," the memo said.
The tragedy also brought unexpected challenges for Mrs. Norton.
"A re-examination of priorities has been necessary," she said. "We have had to look throughout the department to make sure we are protecting visitors and our national icons."
She ordered all national parks shut down Sepember 11. However, almost all of them reopened the next day. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were closed for 100 days, and the statue's crown remains closed to tours. Tours of the Hoover Dam also were suspended for a month.
Mrs. Norton says the department achieved several successes and found common ground with environmental groups on many issues that did not make headlines last year.
Mr. Bush's landowner incentive program to enhance wildlife habitat on private property is one example. The new administration also repaired a relationship with state fish and wildlife officials that was fractured during the Clinton years.
Interior officials also reached agreement with environmental groups to limit lawsuits on the Endangered Species Act and instead focus on species protection.


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