Message to the Congress Transmitting the Report of the Council on Environmental Quality

 

October 3, 1988

 

To the Congress of the United States:

 

All over the world, America is known as a ``land of liberty.'' For the settlers who first came to America by ship in the 17th century, this new land promised a New World, and a new chance to make possible the oldest of dreams -- the dream of personal liberty. The early settlers and explorers found an abundance of land -- virgin forests, untouched meadows, bountiful streams, and sweet-smelling air -- that vastly exceeded anything the kings of the old world could have ever imagined. In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson spoke of a country with land sufficient to ``the thousand thousandth generation.'' There was so much land in America that there was no way to restrict it to a privileged few. Instead of locking it up for the exclusive use of royalty, the Founding Fathers made possible the widespread ownership of the lands west of the original colonies by anyone brave enough to take the risk, to grasp the main chance, and to hope for a better tomorrow.

 

The settlement of this great and generous land and the development of its resources created a diverse and expansive American republic of hope, opportunity, experimentation, mobility, and personal freedom. Americans created so much wealth, and shared it so widely, that eventually ordinary men and women could afford to travel West just for pleasure. Americans' fascination with the West, and advances in transportation, education, and science, contributed to a successful popular movement to restore and beautify cities with public parks, arboreta and gardens, and to preserve other places of natural beauty or curiosity. The Federal government began to set aside wondrous places ``for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,'' such as Yellowstone in 1872, when the Congress established it as the first national park. Today the National Park Service manages 341 units on 76 million acres preserved as parks, monuments, historic, cultural, and recreation sites. A philosophy of conservation and wise use was championed by Theodore Roosevelt, who signed legislation in 1905 that created the Forest Service and brought about the national forest system that today includes 191 million acres of national forests and grasslands, managed under multiple-use principles.

 

The first unit of the modern National Wildlife Refuge System dates back to President Roosevelt's designation in 1903 of Florida's three-acre Pelican Island as a refuge for colonial nesting birds. Popular interest in the conservation of native birds at that time led to the establishment of independent Audubon societies in many States, and a national association was formed in 1905. By 1910, most States had an agency protecting wildlife and fisheries. The Migratory Bird Act of 1918 authorized international agreements and Federal management for migrating waterfowl and other birds. Today the Fish and Wildlife Service manages 443 refuges on nearly 90 million acres, and administers the Endangered Species Act of 1973, that further protects native animal and plant species whose survival is threatened or endangered. Private organizations dedicated to the restoration of viable populations of such species, to the conservancy of rare habitats, or to the protection of wetlands that are critical to waterfowl have continued to enlarge their contribution to the preservation of natural systems. In recent years, the idea of protection of natural habitat has also been extended to marine environments through the establishment of marine sanctuaries.

 

Earlier in our Nation's history, the cause of liberty was well served by the government making a rapid and flexible divestiture of its land, out of which our people created a prosperous and generous nation of communities. The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.

 

This Administration has understood the necessary relationship between freedom and opportunity, between opportunity and growth, between growth and progress, including progress in restoring and maintaining the quality of the human environment. The same spirit of creativity and innovation that has created 17 million jobs has also benefited the land itself, making America the beautiful more beautiful still.

 

The accompanying report of the Council on Environmental Quality, which I am pleased to transmit today, provides an accounting of the natural systems and resources that Americans have accorded special protection by government agencies and by private voluntary associations active in States and communities all over this country. No other nation in the world has done more to preserve and improve its natural environment. We are a people who take pride in America, and in the environmental quality of the communities we helped to build, and who will continue to build our future as we did our past, in freedom.

 

Ronald Reagan

 

The White House,

 

October 3, 1988.