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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 16, 2003

President Discusses Healthy Forests in Weekly Radio Address

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week, I traveled to Arizona and California to see some of America's forests and parks, and to talk about my commitment to good stewardship of these natural treasures.

On Monday, I visited the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, where wildfires recently consumed thousands of acres of forest and destroyed hundreds of homes. Nearby, I also saw forests that remained largely intact, thanks to wise forest management policy. Fire professionals and forest and park rangers agree, by thinning overgrown forests, we will reduce the risk of catastrophic fire and restore the health of forest ecosystems.

That is the purpose of my Healthy Forest Initiative. We're cutting through bureaucratic red tape to complete urgently needed forest-thinning projects. We are speeding up environmental assessments and consultations required by current law. And we're expediting the administrative appeals process to resolve disputes more quickly. By the end of this fiscal year in September, we will have treated more than 2.6 million acres of overgrowth, more than twice the acreage that was treated in the year 2000.

Under current law, however, litigation often delays projects, while some 190 million acres of forest remain at high risk of dangerous fires, and nearby communities remain vulnerable. So I'm asking Congress to reform the review process for forest projects.

The Healthy Forest Restoration Act would make forest health a high priority when courts are forced to resolve disputes, and it would place reasonable time limits on the litigation process after the public has had an opportunity to comment, and a decision has been made. For the health of America's forests, and for the safety and economic vitality of our communities, the Congress must complete work on this bill. The House has passed the legislation and now the Senate must act.

As we protect America's forests, we must also preserve the beauty of America's nearly 80 million acres of national park land. On Friday, I visited the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Southern California. It is one of America's 388 national park areas, including historic sites, and battlefields, recreation areas, monuments, and shores. Every one of them is a point of pride for the nation and for local communities.

Yet in the past not all of these sites have been given the attention they require. Some of our national park areas are not in good condition. And for many years, government did not even have the basic information about which places were most in need of repair or restoration. To meet this challenge, I pledge to spend $4.9 billion, over five years, on needed work and maintenance in our national park areas.

With the support of Congress, we're keeping that commitment. In the first two years of my administration, Congress provided nearly $1.8 billion for park maintenance and roads. And my request for the next three budgets will bring total funding for park maintenance and roads to more than $5 billion over five years.

With this funding, we've already undertaken approximately 900 park maintenance projects. This year, the Park Service is working on 500 more projects. And nearly 400 more are planned for next year. As we attend to needed repairs, we're also putting in place a new system of inventory and assessment to assure that America's parks stay in good condition. We have set a new course for our national parks, with better management and renewed investment in the care and protection. After all, the parks belong to the people.

I look forward to traveling next week to Oregon and Washington state, and I will be carrying the same message: Our system of national parks and forests is a trust given to every generation of Americans. By practicing good management and being faithful stewards of the land, our generation can show that we're worthy of that trust.

Thank you for listening.