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Text of opening Remarks by Vice President at the Forest Conference To: National Desk, Environment Writer Contact: The White House, Office of the Press Secretary,


PORTLAND, Ore., April 2 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following is the text of the opening remarks by Vice President Al Gore at the Forest Conference.

Oregon Convention Center Portland, Ore. 10:54 A.M. PST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, it is an honor to join you, to join so many members of the Cabinet and so many people here today who care deeply about the issues we're going to discuss.

And let me add my voice to theirs in applauding your decision to convene this Forest Conference and your commitment to a balanced and fair resolution of these difficult issues. For far too long, bitter fighting and confused policymaking have scarred this debate. As each side fought for advantage, no one won and many lost --their jobs, their way of life, the wilderness they grew up to love, and even their plans for the families and their future.

It is time we moved beyond argument and confusion to a new approach that replaces fear with hope and stalemate with progress. Let me say what many here understand so well: The status quo cannot continue. We must break the gridlock and move forward. That is what the people outside this convention center are telling us, and that is what I think we'll hear from the people inside this convention center.

We are here today because we are committed to moving forward. We are here today to listen and learn from the people who live with these issues every single day of their lives.

I have tried to learn a lot about the environment. I know some people here probably think I've spent too much time trying to learn about the environment. Today I expect to learn a whole lot more about the people and the communities nurtured, sustained, and inspired by the wilderness in their very backyards, because at its very heart, this debate is about people. It is about all of you here today and the many others watching and listening to this Forest Conference. It is about people who care deeply about their communities and about a way of life passed from one generation to the next, rich in traditions strengthened over time. It is about people who care about the forests, wildlife, water, and fish. It is about proud, hardworking people worried about losing their jobs and their dreams, worried about a future now uncertain for their children. It is about people tired of confusion and controversy, who are ready to work together for solutions.

It is because we care about you, the people in these communities -- about your jobs, your future, and your families -- that we are here today to listen and learn from your experience. We are tremendously gratified by the response we have received to this conference. We are gratified by the willingness of all sides to come to the table and talk when, for years, many have spent more time shouting. We're encouraged by the eagerness of all involved to seek common ground and comprehensive long-term answers.

The days when this debate was defined by either/or choices are over. This isn't about saving jobs or saving the environment. It's about saving jobs and saving the environment -- because we can't do one without the other, certainly not in the long term. A healthy forest economy demands healthy forests.

That's not to say the challenge we face in crafting a solution will be easy. We recognize that it's not. You know that, and so do we. These issues have defied answers and denied progress, but we are determined to move forward. And today marks an important step toward the balanced, long-term policy we all seek. We are here because together we have reached an important conclusion already: We must work together to find ways that recognize the importance of the forests and timber to the economy, jobs and communities in the region, as well as recognizing the importance of our old-growth forests, a part of our national heritage that if, once destroyed, will be gone forever for every generation that follows.

For the people in this region and across America, both are important. If we destroy the old growth forests, we lose jobs and threaten entire communities -- jobs in tourism and fishing, recreational activities like hunting and hiking and fishing, water supplies we count on to be clean and safe. And we lose what we have yet to discover -- vital new substances like the potential cure for some kinds of cancer -- Taxol that's found in the bark of the Yew trees in the old growth forests.

President Clinton has made clear his commitment to reviving our economy and creating jobs, to investing in America, to ensure our long-term economic strength. That's what his economic package is all about. And that's what this Forest Conference is about, too. We are eager to hear from you. We're eager to learn from you.

Thank you all for joining us, for helping us, and for working with us. (Applause.)

END 10:59 A.M. PST