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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 14, 1999
                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                           ON LAND PRESERVATION

                            The Roosevelt Room

11:52 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Secretary Babbitt and George Frampton and all the members of our administration are glad to welcome the environmental leaders who are here today.

At the dawn of this century, Theodore Roosevelt defined America's great central task as "leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us." This is the vision of environmental stewardship that has inspired our Lands Legacy Initiative, the historic plan I unveiled earlier this year to protect America's threatened green and open spaces.

Two weeks ago, I had the great honor of signing into law the funding for this Lands Legacy Initiative. Although much of the news of that day concentrated on budget victories for education and public safety, it was also a remarkable day for the environment. With one stroke of the pen, we made it possible to add hundreds of thousands of acres to our children's endowment of natural wonders -- places like New Mexico's Baca Ranch, home to one of North America's largest herds of wild elk.

Today, I will be sending to Congress a list of 18 additional natural and historic sites we propose to protect with new Lands Legacy funding. Our list includes section of Hawaii's Hakalau Forest, which supports hundreds of species of rare plants and birds. It includes critical habitat on Florida's Pelican Island, where Theodore Roosevelt established the nation's very first wildlife preserve. It includes the birth home and burial place of Martin Luther King, Jr.

We now have funding to protect all these places. We have willing sellers, and we look forward to speedy review by the appropriate committees in Congress.

I'm also pleased to report on the status of yet another effort to protect the lands we hold sacred. A year ago, I asked Secretary Babbitt to report to me on unique and fragile places that deserve to be protected as national monuments. This morning, Secretary Babbitt presented me with his recommendation that I use my executive authority to create three new national monuments in Arizona and California, and to significantly expand another in California.

Each of the sites already belongs to the American people, and no land purchases would be required. But giving these lands national monument status would ensure they would be passed along to future generations, healthy and whole.

The first of the proposed new monuments is located on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, and it consists of stunning canyons and lonely buttes, shaped by the hand of God over millions of years.

The second, a desert region in the shadow of rapidly expanding Phoenix, is an archaeological treasure trove, containing some of the most extraordinary prehistoric ruins and petroglyphs in the American Southwest. The third, off the coast of California, would encompass thousands of small islands and reefs that serve as essential habitat for sea otters and sea birds forced from the shore by extensive development.

Finally, this proposal calls for expanding California's Pinnacles National Monument, the site of the spectacular volcanic spires and mountain caves.

Secretary Babbitt's recommendations come as a result of careful analysis and extensive discussions with local citizen, state and local officials, and with members of Congress. And I will take them very seriously. I expect to make a decision on the sites early next year.

Like Theodore Roosevelt, I believe there are certain places humankind simply cannot improve upon -- places whose beauty and interest no photograph could capture, places you simply have to see for yourself. We must use this time of unparalleled prosperity to ensure people will always be able to see these places as we see them today.

There is no greater gift we can offer to the new millennium than to protect these treasures for all Americans for all time.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 11:59 P.M. EST