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AgWeb - Interior Secretary: New Approach to Land Management


Interior Secretary: New Approach to Land Management

Interior Secretary Gale Norton told participants at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting and convention the goal of the Bush administration’s management of the nation’s natural resources is cooperation rather than conflict.

In an address to convention, Norton said the current administration has brought “a new approach” to managing federal lands, water resources and endangered species.

“Too often in the past the relationship between Interior and farmers and ranchers has been one of antagonism over things like water rights, endangered species and cattle grazing on public lands,” Norton said.

She said the administration has provided a “subtle but major shift in the direction of environmental policy.” She told the audience that there is “no reason” the Interior Department and agricultural producers should be at odds. “Each one of you is dedicated to taking care of the land and its wildlife. You are true conservationists,” she said.

Norton noted that Washington D.C., has long been dominated by those who believe in the “old style” of environmental policy, based on “punishment, conflict and litigation.”

Norton thanked Farm Bureau members for their recent support for the president’s healthy forests initiative, which he has signed into law.

Norton said the Endangered Species Act is a “powerful law” which is often viewed as “all stick and no carrot.” The first woman ever to lead the Interior Department said the administration’s philosophy is geared to working in partnerships with farmers, ranchers and local governments to find solutions to ESA conflicts.

“You’ve all heard the phrase shoot, shovel and shut up,” she said, referring to a tongue-in-cheek comment about landowner fears of finding an endangered species on their private property.

She said when news came out that prairie dogs were to be listed as endangered species in certain states, “the sale of prairie dog poison doubled.” That, she said, indicated a bad policy.

Norton told the farmers and ranchers from across the nation that the administration’s goal for the ESA as it enters its 30th year is to “empower the American people to take conservation into their own hands.”

“Americans love wildlife and they don’t want to see rare species disappear,” she said. The way to do that is to involve states, tribes, businesses, conservation organizations and landowners in incentive-based programs and conservation agreements, she added.

Norton encouraged Farm Bureau members to work for passage of a new energy bill in the next session of Congress. She said the Interior Department is acutely interested in energy issues since its land and offshore holdings produce about one-third of the nation’s oil, natural gas and coal.

President Bush is concerned about the reliance on foreign sources of energy, she said, and current energy policy is costing farmers billions of dollars “just to plant crops.”

“We certainly appreciate working with the Farm Bureau on the passage of that important legislation,” she said.

In addressing what she admitted was one of the more controversial issues in her department, Norton said she thinks “public lands benefit from public lands grazing.”

She said it was a goal of the administration
to keep ranchers on the land, raising food. “We recognize that ranching is crucial not only for the economies of western rural communities but also to the history, social fabric and cultural identity of these communities.”

She said there are still people and groups who want to end grazing on public lands. “President Bush is not one of them and I am not one of them.”

Norton also mentioned the Interior Department’s attempt to solve water problems in the West, through “Water 2025” program. She said it uses volunteer water banks and market-based measures to address water supply problems.

“It recognizes the states, not the federal government, have the lead role in water,” she said to the applause of the attendees.

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