Is a Park a Playground or Preserve? ; Today, in Alabama, Bush Will Argue for a Leading Preservation Program

By Abraham McLaughlin writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Is a Park a Playground or Preserve? ; Today, in Alabama, Bush Will Argue for a Leading Preservation Program


Abraham McLaughlin writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Ever since the early days of America's land-conservation movement - when Teddy Roosevelt was sealing off vast tracts of the nation's wilderness - there's been tension over how such treasures should be used: Are they playgrounds for citizens to revel in, or pristine preserves that allow native plants and animals to thrive in relative peace?

These days, President Bush and Congress are still in the throes of this debate.

In Birmingham, Ala., today Mr. Bush will tout his plan to "fully fund" the premier US preservation program - the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is responsible for adding parcels to such icons as the Grand Canyon and the Appalachian Trail.

Even Bush's critics cheer his plan to boost the budget of this three-decade-old fund to unprecedented levels. Yet they also worry that his restructuring of the program will push the program will push conservation efforts decidedly away from the pristine-haven approach - and toward state and local parks filled with soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and kiddie pools.

"It's a great start," says Naomi Edelson, who promotes wildlife diversity for the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies here.

But Ms. Edelson and others criticize the Bush plan because it would give the nation's governors greater control over which kind of projects are funded - wildlife conservation efforts or bike paths, swimming pools, soccer fields, and the like.

"When it comes down to people versus wildlife," she says, "we know who wins." Recreational sites, she points out, are just more popular with suburban voters - who are often politically powerful.

Since its inception in 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been divided into two separate programs.

One is the primary fund for helping America expand its national parks, wildlife refuges, and other sanctuaries. Bush would fund it at $450 million. Over the years, it has helped buy some 7 million acres of land, including parts of Everglades National Park in Florida, Acadia National Park in Maine, and Denali National Park in Alaska.

The other would give $450 million in matching funds to states. Historically, 70 percent of this state-directed money has been used to buy or build recreational areas - 7,000 soccer fields, 5,000 baseball fields, 6,000 football fields, as well as marinas, gun ranges, and other sites.

Wildlife conservationists have little quibble with recreational areas. Indeed, these sites are key to fostering a love of the outdoors.

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