- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The White House is playing environmental matchmaker, encouraging odd couples such as the Nature Conservancy and the Pentagon as they team up to save wild birds and military training ranges.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is among President Bush’s Cabinet members talking up “cooperative conservation,” the buzzword for the first presidential conference on the environment in 40 years. Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton says the aim is “to energize citizen-conservationists.”

Mr. Bush hopes that the meeting opening today in St. Louis will boost involvement nationwide. Leveraging federal money and helping cut regulatory red tape are other goals, said his top environmental adviser.

Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the administration wants to expand sharply the federal programs that allow for local conservation efforts yet also “reduce some of the expansive machinery of government that can sometimes get in the way.”



Agencies plan to emphasize:

• Interior Department programs that give direct financial help for conservation by ranchers and other private landowners.

• Environmental Protection Agency help in commercially redeveloping waste sites.

• Agriculture Department backing for preserving farmland.

• Commerce Department aid in preserving marine habitats.

“As a 25-year EPA scientist, I have learned that when we act alone, mandating rules and regulations, our environmental progress is limited,” said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

With about a quarter of all 1,268 endangered and threatened U.S. species residing on military bases, the Nature Conservancy has been an active partner with the Pentagon. The group’s president, Steven McCormick, says it helps identify natural habitat that species need to survive, then sets about securing land and funding to create buffer zones.

“We felt that it was a tremendous opportunity,” Mr. McCormick said. “There are more endangered species on military facilities than on any other federal lands. They contain some incredibly important habitat, and species depend on it.”

Congress appropriated $12.5 million this year for creating partnerships for dealing with endangered species at military facilities, the first time lawmakers have taken such action.

“We’re hopeful that the White House conference will at the very least create greater awareness of these unlikely alliances,” Mr. McCormick said. “Regulation and buying land alone probably won’t be sufficient for conservation to take hold on a really large scale.”

Environmentalists critical of Mr. Bush support the premise that landowners play an important role in protecting endangered species, water and air quality. Nearly four-fifths of the land in the lower 48 states is privately owned.

“It’s not enough to put a fence around the land,” said Robert Bonnie, a senior economist for New York-based Environmental Defense. “We need landowners to go out and do things, restore habitat, plant buffers around streams — trees, native vegetation.”

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