Gale Norton, U.S. Secretary of the Interior
126th Landon Lecture
May 6, 2002
It's great to see all of you here today and to have the opportunity to talk about some issues that are very important to me. I know that I'm following most recently one of your speakers, J.C. Watts. That's a tough act to follow, but I'll try to do my best.
I've had a great weekend here in Kansas. We've just had a wonderful ceremony at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. It received the designation of a Ramsar Wetland Site, which has the significance that it is a wetland of international importance, and so this is a tremendous recognition. There are only 18 such sites in the United States. So we had a wonderful opportunity to see that area.
Well, I was born in Kansas and so it's great to have the opportunity to come back to the place where I was born. I lived in Wichita for the first five years of my life. My family lived about a half a block away from the Little Arkansas River. Ever since then people have kind of teased me about the pronunciation of that, but I know that the right pronunciation is Ar-KANSAS.
It was here that I began my interest in nature. We had the river itself, the tornadoes, the beautiful places that we would drive to see. I remember when we kids got together and decided to create a museum, like the natural history museum. We had a few interesting rocks, some pretty leaves. The star of our show was a dead frog that had been run over by a car. Well, somehow that was never quite the money-maker that our lemonade stand was, but that was something that sparked my interest.
My parents are here today visiting; they live in Wichita now again, and they have been so terrific to me and so supportive. Whenever you see a woman who is the first something or another, I think very often behind that woman are parents who encouraged her and said, "You can do it." And, see that certainly is the way that my parents are. I would ask them to stand, but I promised that I wouldn't embarrass them by doing that. But they are here watching today.
Well, Kansas and nature are irrevocably tied together in my mind, that and the flat frog. The first settlers in Kansas must have felt in awe of nature here, because they came upon thousands and thousands of acres of tall grass prairie across the state. At one time there were 142 million acres of this prairie stretching across the middle of the United States.
The grasses of the prairie, like big bluestem, could grow as tall as a man and they supported an abundant ecosystem. The tall grass prairie had a role in the romantic vision of cowboy life. The cattle were driven up from Texas, they grazed along the way. The cowboys lived on horseback, listening to the cattle lowing and the guitar playing and watched the spectacular night sky unimpeded by trees.
Droughts came and went. Fires regularly burned the area, and bison trampled through the tall grass, but the prairie survived. The prairie plants found ways to outlive each circumstance. Fires that can be devastating to a mature forest work on the prairie as if they were told to perform the jobs of raking and mowing and fertilizing. The Indians noted that the recovering prairie seemed even greener after a fire.
What the tall grass prairie could not survive was man and his plow. The prairie did not yield easily to the plow, but man is a persistent creature and when he had succeeded he was rewarded with rich topsoil that could be conquered with irrigation, fences, wheat and corn plants. The deep organic soils formed by the cyclic degradation of prairie roots left a rich legacy to modern agriculture. Today Kansas farmers can feed millions.
The tall grass prairie is the most altered ecological community in North America. After surviving for 9,000 years since the last ice age, the prairie was nearly all plowed under in less than a century. Today less than five percent survives. The good news is that Kansas has 80 percent of what is left, and most of it is in the Flint Hills.
Since the prairie here is underlaid with rock, the soil is too thin often for the plow. There are about 4 million acres of tall grass prairie in Kansas, Oklahoma and a little in Missouri. Most of that tall grass prairie is in the hands of private owners.
In the 1960s and 1970s, as many of you here know, there were government efforts to preserve that prairie. For the most part the Kansas Grass Roots Association said, "No, thank you, we don't want to have government ownership of the prairie." In the late 1990s the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks again began talking about how to preserve the prairie. They talked with the Nature Conservancy about how to do it. A small group soon determined that they weren't going to make much headway unless they begin involving the ranchers.
I'm proud of the efforts of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee Jim Menorath. He had the diplomatic skills to approach the Kansas Livestock Association, to ask them for the names of ranchers who might be willing to work with conservationists.
Mike Beam of the Kansas Livestock Association said, "It is fair to say that the government, the Nature Conservancy and the Kansas Livestock Association were not natural soul mates. They had to be pragmatic and include stakeholders," - I hear some laughter there - "they had to be pragmatic and include stakeholders from the environmental and ranching communities to form partnerships and get things done."
From this beginning began the tall grass prairie alliance - excuse me, the Tall Grass Legacy Alliance. Its purpose is to conserve and enhance the biotic, economic and cultural integrity of the tall grass prairie. The member organizations now include the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Wildlife Management Institute, Nature Conservancy, my own U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the State Conservation Commission and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. I know that scientists from KSU also play a part in those efforts.
Rancher Tom Moxley is the chairman of the Tall Grass Legacy Alliance, and coincidentally his wife, Virginia, is an associate dean here at KSU. Tom says that there are opposite poles among the members, but they find a lot more in common than one might think. He said, "Farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists. We more than anyone else want to preserve the tall grass for generations to follow."
We've seen that this type of opportunity can happen across the country. We're seeing farmers and ranchers and environmentalists come together to begin using conservation easements, to begin working together on adjusting farmland practices to the needs of the natural environment. Here on the tall grass prairie the cattle grazing is being used to mimic the grazing of the bison, so that the prairie ecosystem remains intact.
I agree that this approach has been shown through the leadership of Kansas livestock leaders and environmentalists. It's a poster child for how the federal government, and especially the Department of the Interior, should operate across the country. It's part of something that I call the four Cs: communication, cooperation and consultation all in the service of conservation. This is an approach that we call overall a new environmentalism. I'd like to trace with you some of the historic roots of that and what our approach means.
This new era of conservation will usher in a new environmentalism. At Interior I've hired someone that is known to many of you, Steve Williams, the former director of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, to be the director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Steve had his hand in the Tall Grass Legacy Alliance. He understands the need for pragmatism and partnerships, and he is the type of person that I want on my team. Steve has already applied the four Cs successfully in Kansas and on other projects as well. He was a driving force in restoring the McPherson Valley Wetlands complex in central Kansas, working with Ducks Unlimited, Fish and Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy and the Koch Pipeline Company. These successes are models that can have nationwide repercussions. Their importance can be understood only by looking at their historic and environmental significance.
We've come through two great eras in the environmental and conservation movement. The first of those was typified by Teddy Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman and hunter, who saw that the populations of wildlife were beginning to decline. He put the weight of his presidency behind conserving public lands and wildlife, establishing the National Wildlife Refuge System and the U.S. Forest Service and designating 18 areas of public lands as parks and monuments.
For the first few decades the conservation movement focused on setting aside parks and wildlife refuges, both at the federal and state level, and the management of games species, such as water fowl and deer.
Over time the conservation ethic evolved and expanded. By the late 1940s, Aldo Leopold, a forester by training, was calling for a more ambitious conservation agenda. He published the Sand County Almanac, which provided the framework for a new approach to natural resource management, one based on managing our lands as a whole rather than as individual parts. Leopold is now widely considered to be the founder of the field of conservation ecology.
In my mind he also laid the groundwork for a modern holistic approach to conservation and environmental protection. At the heart of his conservation ethic was a call to all citizens to take responsibility and become stewards of the land. As a college student I read Leopold's work. It helped shape my philosophy about the role of individuals in caring for our lands.
The history of the environmental movement over the last 35 years of the 20th Century lacked the philosophical optimism of the earlier environmental era. The environmental problems were perhaps more dramatically visible. The American symbol, the bald eagle, on the verge of extinction; the Cuyahoga River on fire; smoke stacks belching pollution in our cities. Rachel Carson captured the spirit of those times with her 1962 book, "Silent Spring." It talked about the consequences of industrial development.
Out of this crisis period came the enactment of landmark environmental laws, like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Each of these focused on environmental protection through law enforcement and punishment. Compliance with these laws and others has significantly improved our environment. Many may not realize how much improvement we've seen, because it has all occurred so gradually.
In 1972 only a third of the nation's rivers were safe for fishing and swimming. By the 1980s more than half of the rivers were considered safe. And today we view clean rivers as the norm. Motor vehicle improvements have lead to a reduction, for example, in lead emissions, from 200 million tons in 1970 to about 4 million tons today.
These successes have not been without controversy along the way. Federal policies resulted in conflicts, both real and perceived between economic growth and environmental protection. Environmental discussions triggered passionate antagonism. In political and media debates environmental protection and economic growth were seen as mutually exclusive.
My own experiences were shaped by those larger societal trends. In the 1960s and 1970s I lived in Thornton, Colorado, and every morning I would come over the hill on a school bus and see the whole Denver valley below me. When I was in elementary school I could see downtown Denver clearly, but as I grew older the city disappeared behind a blanket of smog. I became active in environmental groups and was involved throughout high school and college in a number of different environmental activities.
As a young attorney I began representing farmers and ranchers, small businesses and others, who were frequently confused by government regulation. I began to see that they had their own dreams, their own desires to live their lives, and found governmental regulation as a distant and heavy handed bureaucracy standing in the way. Since I retained my own desire to protect the environment, yet sympathized with their plight, I sought ways to protect environmental values without trampling on other important values, like individual freedom and the basic need to make a living. I became interested in economic incentive approaches to pollution control.
In the early 1980s I spent a year at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, researching emissions training as one of those innovative methods. Later I did policy analysis for the Council on Environmental Quality, on enhancing wetlands using economic incentives. I avidly read and discussed the work of others who were pursuing non-coercive market based ways of achieving positive environmental results.
Environmental issues today are much more complex and subtle than they were in the 1960s and 1970s. We face issues like nonpoint source pollution and global climate change that don't lend themselves to simple solution.
In the land conservation category the growth of our population and the expansion of our economy has increased pressures correspondingly on our undeveloped land, water resources and wildlife habitat. With this backdrop we're setting the stage for a new environmentalism. We've come to realize that we must work in partnership with people who farm, ranch, log and build on private land. While countless species depend on the land to sustain life, families depend on the land for economic survival. The Tall Grass Legacy Alliance is a perfect example of this.
I believe that most Americans, especially those who depend on the land for their livelihood, are ready and willing to step up to the challenge. In this new environmentalism we must embrace the goal of finding ways to have both a thriving economy and a spectacular natural environment. We can develop more energy resources that are renewable, such as solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy on public lands. We can use 21st Century technologies to develop traditional energy sources in environmentally sensitive ways. We can empower a new generation of citizen stewards who want to do the right thing, not because the law tells them to, but because they love the land and want to conserve it for their children.
Rather than dictate from Washington how the land must be used, we need to work with people to determine how utilizing the land can be compatible with conservation. Americans are resourceful. We need to tap our own creativity and ingenuity.
At Interior we're also working with states to amplify our ability to protect our resources. I've made state and local government communication one of the performance goals of senior executives. we've rejuvenated working relationships with state regulators, wildlife agencies, governors and parks directors. Several of our budget proposals have been structured to empower states to resolve environmental controversies.
New environmentalism captures Aldo Leopold's vision of citizen conservationists. Successful conservation can be a partnership between government and citizens. The government's role is to empower the people to take conservation into their own hands. The mandates of the Endangered Species Act served as one example of ways in which we can have a positive change. We are working on ways to have cooperative approaches that will truly recover endangered species.
Bill Anderson is typical of the citizen conservationist we hope to empower with the new environmentalism. He grazes cattle on a 49,000 acre ranch near the Canadian River in Texas. Like many ranchers, Anderson has a deep love and knowledge of the land and its wildlife. He wants to make a living and he wants to conserve the land for future generations.
Over the last decade Anderson voluntarily has paid to fence off environmentally sensitive areas of his ranch. Last year he split the cost of finishing the project with the Fish and Wildlife Service. The fencing has made his land both more productive for cattle, but also for wildlife, including the lesser prairie chicken, which is a candidate for listing under the endangered species.
Another Texas landowner recently summed up the sentiments of the partners who work with us on these conservation projects. He told my science adviser, "Thank you for empowering us to help ourselves."
President Bush has pushed to further empower these types of habitat enhancement projects through two programs called the Landowner Incentive Program and the Private Stewardship Grant Program. Both of these together will allow the federal government to pay for projects that will conserve habitat on private land while working closely with the landowners. We hope that the end result will be that landowners will embrace endangered and threatened species instead of trying to force them off their land before the regulatory issues become apparent.
This is the path to a new environmentalism, a path away from conflict and toward consensus and partnership. To move us further along this path I recommended and the President agreed to propose something in the fiscal year 2003 budget called The Cooperative Conservation Initiative. This is a very ambitious goal. It will help remove barriers to citizen participation in environmentalism. The President is proposing $100 million in challenge grants to landowners, land user groups, conservation projects that enhance the health of the land. This is the carrot instead of the stick, incentive instead of punishment.
Half the new money, or $50 million, will be invested with states to fund cost share grants for innovative conservation projects. This will allow states to work with their communities, to come up with solutions. The other half will be divided among the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Our local land managers will be able to apply for these challenge grants if they can recruit local conservation groups, local agriculture groups, local service clubs to work with them and provide some of the funding for various projects.
With the new environmentalism we will continue to find consensus and common ground. As the next generation of Americans become involved we will have a healthier land, watched over by self-motivated citizens stewards. We will spend more time tending the land and less time jousting with sound bites and hyperbole.
We are a nation founded on the principle that we can and must work together. We saw this in the aftermath of Sept. 11th in the long lines at the blood banks, and the millions of dollars donated to victims and their families. We must apply the same sense of commitment to develop new environmentalism, ensuring our children and grandchildren inherit a nation that is as beautiful and strong as the one that we inherited.
General Patton once said, "Never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." If we challenge the American people we will create a new generation of citizen conservationists, people who know the land, love the land, and take care of the land in the greatest tradition of our nation. Thank you very much.