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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 4, 2004

Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan and a Senior Administration Official on New Conservation Initiatives
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Davenport, Iowa

10:30 A.M. CDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's see. Let me go through the President's day, to start with, and then I've got a senior administration official here to give you a little background on today's conservation event in Minnesota. But first let me go through the day.

The President had his usual briefing on board Air Force One here a short time ago. He will -- we will go into Iowa first, where the Freedom Corps greeter is Peggy Schaefer, who, for the past four years, has volunteered with the Genesis Mentoring Program at Genesis Medical Center in Davenport. Then the President will make remarks at a Davenport, Iowa rally.

From there, we will go to Minnesota, where the President will first go to a family farm and make remarks on the Conservation Reserve Program. The President will be talking about his conservation agenda and three new major initiatives that he will be announcing to build upon his commitment to protecting and conserving our land. And again, I'll turn it over to a senior administration official in just a second here to talk about that. And you all should have the fact sheet already.

After that, we go to Mankato, Minnesota, for remarks at a rally there. Just one bit of color: This will be the first sitting President to visit Mankato since President Truman made a brief speech there from the back of his train during a whistle-stop tour in 1948 -- believe it was October 1948.

And then we return to D.C. this evening. And let me turn it over to the senior administration official, and then I'll be around for questions after you're through with him.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning. The President is going to a farm today in Minnesota, as Scott said ---- highlight some important environmental and conservation initiatives that the President is going to unveil. These initiatives are based off of a program called Conservation Reserve Program, which has been a highly successful environment and conservation program.

Just to give you some idea of the scope of this program, we have about 400 million acres of crops in this country. The Conservation Reserve has 35 million of those acres enrolled in this land retirement program. So it's a massive program scattered throughout the United States. Ten percent of our crop land base roughly are in this program -- 10 percent of our total crop land base are in this program. It has already reduced soil erosion in this country by 40 percent. That means cleaner air, cleaner water. It's been used to restore 1.8 million acres of wetlands already; 2 million acres of trees have been planted under this program.

The President today is going to make announcements that we believe will use this program to even further the environmental benefits. First and foremost, two-thirds of the contracts -- these are voluntary contracts that the farmer enters into with the government to take his land out of production for 10 to 15 years -- two-thirds of these contracts expire beginning in 2007. And there is great concern in the farm and conservation community that somehow all of this land that has been conserved, restored and preserved for wildlife is somehow going to go back into intensive agricultural production with all those environmental benefits being lost.

The President is going to announce today that he is instructing the Department of Agriculture to begin to immediately re-enroll and offer contract extensions for all of these contracts that are beginning to expire, the two-thirds in 2007 and 2008.

Q Can he do that through executive order? How is he going to --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He can do that administratively. That's correct. It requires no legislation.

Q How long does he extend them to?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The producers would be given the opportunity to enter into a new contract on the CRP, which would be 10 to 15 years.

The second announcement, also related to the CRP, has to do with -- the CRP has been very, very good for wildlife, particularly pheasants, ducks; we've seen particularly in the upper Midwest a return of those types of species to an area where they had practically been gone. However, one of the species that we have not seen much increase in the last decade or so has been the bobwhite quail; the population of the bobwhite has continued to decline. Roughly 59 million birds, down to about 20 million by the most recent assessment. So CRP has, up to this point, not done much for that.

The President is going to announce that we are setting aside 250,000 acres of borders along agricultural fields that would be specifically targeted for habitat for bobwhite quail. We believe that with this habitat established that we can increase the bobwhite quail population by about 750,000 birds per year.

Q How is he doing that? How is he accomplishing that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Through the Conservation Reserve Program, the farmers will enter into a contract, 10 to 15 years, where they will agree to put a buffer strip along their agricultural fields. That buffer strip will likely be about 60 feet wide. And within that buffer strip then we will plant a habitat that will be specifically targeted towards the bobwhite quail in order to increase their population.

Q And what's killing the quail?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Lack of habitat, primarily. Lack of habitat.

Q So this would be new buffer --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This would be new buffers planted. That's right -- 250,000 acres.

Q Are they endangered?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the quail population, as I said, has declined from about 59 million in the late 1980s, down to about -- our latest assessment is about 20 million. So they have been on the decline.

Q Any particular area of the country where they're concentrated?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These are scattered over 35 different states, specifically, again, targeted towards those habitats where bobwhite quail are going to be the most prevalent. And it just depends upon the state and region, but we have targeted acreage in each state for this --

Q So no particular region --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No particular region. Certainly the southeast region in the country has seen the strongest decline in bobwhite quail population.

Q So they're not on the endangered list -- because there's a difference between endangered, which has critical habitat --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not aware that the bobwhite quail is on an endangered list at this point.

The third part of the announcement deals with wetlands. As I've said, the Conservation Reserve Program has already been responsible for recreating 1.8 million acres of wetlands, restoring wetlands. The current rules, however, only allow wetlands to be restored in what are called flood plain regions. And the President is using his authority to day to direct the Department of Agriculture to expand that eligibility to say that now the CRP can be used to take acreage in what are called the upland regions -- in other words, non-flood plains.

And this is particularly important in areas of the country we call sort of the prairie pothole regions, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, regions like that where they have a lot of wetlands that are not bottom-land, flood plain regions, but they're high plains, flat areas that flood and are -- have all the wetlands characteristics. Those areas are currently not eligible for the Conservation Reserve; they will be as a result of this announcement, and we believe we can use those areas again not only for the wetlands restoration, but to create a habitat around the wetlands that will be ideal for ducks, wildlife, geese, these kinds of things, for, again, furthering the benefits of the existing program.

Q How much is this going to cost?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe this is all within the spending authority in the Conservation Reserve under the farm bill, which allows us to go up to 39.2 million acres. And that has been budgeted for and is within the existing spending authority the President has.

Q All this is part of the farm bill that passed --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All this is part of the Conservation Reserve, which was reauthorized as part of the farm bill, that is correct.

Q -- farm bill passed?


MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, anything else?


Q -- part of the farm bill, the 2002 farm bill, it's -- just for my own knowledge, I saw on the factsheet that it was $40 billion, CPR is $40 billion in that farm bill. What's the overall number of what -- of that farm bill again?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The overall total cost of the farm bill? It's roughly about $12 -- $12 billion a year, something like that.

Q -- for the next 10 years?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Ten years, yes. That's a very, very rough number.

All right, thank you.

Q Thanks a lot.

MR. McCLELLAN: See you all later.

Q Hey, you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Hey, you.

Q So, are you guys going to Iowa because Kerry is going there? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: The President's schedule is something that we set and determine based on where we feel it's best to go. It's not based on the Senator's schedule.

Q Does the President like it when he's at the same place? Or would you rather be in a different place when Kerry is --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is focusing on his record and his agenda for the American people. That's what we're going to be -- that's what he will be talking about in Iowa. Obviously, there are some competitive states that both candidates will be traveling to -- and I suspect this might not be the first time we -- the last time we cross paths. But the President is going to talk about his record and his agenda for the American people, because he is -- the President has been and will continue to be very clear and straightforward about what his views and his positions are on the important priorities that the American people face and the choices that we face moving forward. So he will be talking about his agenda for moving America forward today.

Q -- level of narrow casting in all of this. I mean, there's this thin sliver of the country where the President and Kerry are going to be criss-crossing, it seems like, for most of the campaign. Is that right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, yes. Obviously, there are certain states that are more competitive than others. And both candidates will I'm sure spend a considerable amount of time campaigning in those states that are considered swing states, or the most competitive states in this election. But the President's schedule is set by -- on our own terms based on where we feel it is best for him to be campaigning and reaching out to those people who will be very involved in deciding the outcome of the election.

Q The President lost Iowa in 2000 by .34 percent of the vote. Do you think -- are you confident that the President will win it in 2004?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's competing all across the country, and we are competing to win in Iowa. We believe -- yes, I think that we believe that the President will win Iowa based on his record and his agenda for moving America forward, because Iowans share the same values that this President has.

Q Scott, there seems to be a lot of information that's been coming up both on the record and on background in various media reports today that sort of trace the evolution of the latest terror alert. Does the President feel sensitive about this notion that the administration may have been politicizing some of this terror information, and about the debate that seems to be circling around that idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we hope people aren't making such an irresponsible suggestion, and we hope that people won't try to politicize something as important and serious as this threat information. This is a time for all of us to come together in America to do everything we can to protect the American people. And I think that you have to, first of all, understand the nature of the enemy that we face. Al Qaeda is a sophisticated enemy that goes through meticulous planning before striking. It is -- al Qaeda is an enemy that is patient and disciplined. And it is -- and as we have seen through past attacks, it is a very lethal enemy.

But in terms of this current threat information, I think I want to mention three things. Remember, we are in a heightened state of alert already, given the current threat situation over the summer and fall time period, as we have talked to the American people about -- the current threat we face from al Qaeda. And al Qaeda is still interested in harming the American people. And we know that they are involved in plotting to try to carry out an attack to affect the outcome of the democratic process here in this country. Secretary Ridge has spoken to that.

Secondly, this recent alert -- or intelligence information that we have received, a couple of things about it. One, there was an al Qaeda operative who was recently captured. This al Qaeda operative had computer files with very detailed and specific information about some of al Qaeda's intentions. This is an active al Qaeda operative who we know has ties to other al Qaeda operatives who are involved in plotting to carry out attacks against the American people.

Finally, there is another new stream of intelligence reporting that has come to our attention -- came to our attention on Friday. And I think when you connect all these streams of intelligence, it paints an alarming picture. And the President's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people. And this is a time when we must all work together to make sure we're doing everything we can to meet that responsibility. And that's what we're doing.

I would also point out that it's because of our offensive actions abroad, that we're better able to better protect the American people here at home, as Secretary Ridge talked about on Sunday.

Q How was that statement not politicizing a terror alert?

MR. McCLELLAN: How was what?

Q How was that statement not politicizing -- basically given the administration credit for its actions in the war on terror and applying that credit to this terror alert? How is that not politicizing?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think it's pointing out how -- how important it is that we continue to stay on the offensive to win the war on terrorism and to better protect the American people. That is what this war is about. It's about going on the offensive and defeating the terrorists before they can carry out their attacks on the American people. That -- sorry, go ahead.

Q Why didn't you disclose this new stream on Sunday, when the terror alert was --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again -- and there are some ongoing operations underway. And I think that -- one, I think on Sunday that it was pointed out that some of the information that we are receiving regarding surveillance goes back to the 2000-2001 time period, but we know that al Qaeda has a history of planning attacks well in advance, years in advance, and in updating that information just before they intend to carry out their attacks. The 9/11 Commission talked about this in their report, and they pointed to the '98 embassy bombings and how those were in the works years before and then updated before the attacks were carried out. The September the 11th attacks is another -- the September the 11th attacks are another example.

So we're continuing to analyze this information. We're continuing to learn more about this information. There are ongoing operations involved here, which prevents us from getting into certain information publicly.

Q Scott, just to be clear, the new stream of intelligence that came to your attention Friday, that was the material from this active al Qaeda operative who was recently captured?

MR. McCLELLAN: The al Qaeda operative and the computer files, that's a stream of intelligence there. You should look at it -- that is a stream of intelligence that -- that it came to light more fully on Friday. But there is another new stream of intelligence that came to our attention on Friday, as well. And I can't go -- I can't go further -- I can't go further into it because it could compromise some ongoing operations at this point. Anyway, anything --

Q The arrest of the 13 British terrorist suspects, is that at all related to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I can't get any further into that at this point. I think you ought to talk to British officials about that.

All right, thank you. Did you all have anything else, or does that pretty much cover it?

Q I think that's about it.

END 10:45 A.M. CDT