Radio Address to the Nation on Environmental and Natural Resources Management

June 11, 1983

My fellow Americans:

I think it's time to clear the air and straighten out the record on where my administration stands on environmental and natural resources management matters. I know you've heard and read a million words about where others think we stand. Now, how about 5 minutes of the truth?

A few weeks ago, when Bill Ruckelshaus was sworn in as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, he very graciously pointed out that when his Agency was created 13 years ago, with him as its first Director, California was the environmental leader of the Nation. Having been Governor of California at that time, I was, and am, very grateful to Bill for those kind words.

Let me just say, I feel now as I felt then about environmental matters. I believe in a sound, strong environmental policy that protects the health of our people and a wise stewardship of our nation's natural resources. But that's enough about me.

The Secretary of Interior, Jim Watt, is the prime target for those who claim that this administration is out to level the forests and cover the country with blacktops. Someone in the press the other day said if Jim discovered a cure for cancer, there are those who would attack him for being pro-life.

Let's go back a little first and set the stage. Jim rides herd on all the national parks and most of the 80 million acres of national wilderness. There are other things, like wildlife refuges, which up the total considerably. In fact, the Federal Government owns one-third of all the land of the United States.

When he came to Washington 2\1/2\ years ago, Jim found that visitor facilities in our national parks had been allowed to deteriorate to the point that many failed to meet standards for health and safety. It's being corrected. The National Park Service has made a major effort to improve maintenance at the parks that so many Americans love and love to visit. And today, they provide a wider, more beautiful variety of outdoor splendor than you can find anywhere else in the world.

Not too long ago, however, a new fire-storm was raised about our wilderness lands. The perception was created that Secretary Watt was turning some of these lands loose from wilderness classification and government ownership. I should point out that wilderness lands are areas of such wild beauty that they're totally preserved in their natural state. No roads violate them, and no structures of any kind are allowed, and there are now almost 80 million acres of such land.

So, what was the fire-storm all about? Well, hang on, and follow me closely. As a result of legislation passed several years ago, a study was made of some 174 million acres of land to see if any or all of it should be declared wilderness and added to the present 80 million acres. Conditions were imposed in the review procedures to ensure that wilderness standards would be met.

If, for example, there were roads on the land, it was ineligible. It was ineligible if there was any dual ownership by other levels of government or if title to mineral rights was held by individuals or governments. Also, with limited exceptions, any package had to contain no less than 5,000 acres to be eligible. The study had been going on under the previous administration, and some 150 million of the designated 174 million acres had already been turned down by previous administrations as being ineligible for wilderness classification.

Now, think hard now. Do you recall hearing one word about this or any attack being made on anyone at the time? I don't. When we arrived, there were still about 25 million acres to be studied. A few months ago, another 800,000 acres -- that's a fraction of what the previous administration rejected -- were disqualified as not meeting wilderness qualifications. Yet, the reaction this time was instantaneous, volcanic in size, and nationwide in effect: ``Jim Watt was giving away wilderness land. Our children and grandchildren would be deprived of ever seeing America as it once was.''

Well, nobody bothered to mention that our administration has proposed to the Congress addition of another 57 wilderness areas encompassing 2.7 million acres. That's more than three times as much land as was disqualified. Nor did anyone mention that I've already signed legislation designating sites in Indiana, Missouri, Alabama, and West Virginia as new wilderness areas.

The truth is that our National Park System alone has grown to 74 million acres, and almost 7,000 miles of river are included in our National Wild and Scenic River System. We have 413 wildlife refuges totaling some 86.7 million acres. This record is unmatched by any other country in the world.

Our environmental programs also are the strongest in the world. Last year, expenditures by business and government to comply with environmental laws and regulations were estimated at over $55 billion, or $245 per man, woman, and child in the United States.

We have made a commitment to protect the health of our citizens and to conserve our nation's natural beauty and resources. We have even provided financial and technical support to other nations and international organizations to protect global resources. Thanks to these efforts, our country remains ``America the Beautiful.'' Indeed, it's growing more healthy and more beautiful each year. I hope this helps set the record straight, because it's0one we can all be proud of.

Till next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, Md.