THE PRESIDENT. First of all, I want to thank the Members of Congress and the Cabinet who are assembled here for the signing of a very important piece of legislation.
In my environmental message to the Congress in 1977 last May, I urged prompt expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System, among the most deserving areas that could be lost forever for the American people.
Today I am signing H.R. 3454, the Endangered American Wilderness Act of 1978. This act will add about 1.3 million acres in 10 Western States to the wilderness areas of our country, expanding 4 existing wilderness areas and adding 13 new areas at this time. This represents the largest single addition to the wilderness areas of our country since the original enactment of the wilderness act in 1964, and it brings the total acreage in this system now to 15.7 million acres.
This bill is critical in preserving areas that are a vital part of our national heritage and that will be enjoyed by our American people in this generation and in generations and centuries to come.
In passing this bill the Congress has adequately addressed, for the time being, the need to protect endangered areas in the continental United States, the 48 lower States. But we still have an opportunity to act on legislation that will preserve crucial wilderness areas in Alaska before some of the most spectacular scenery in the world and the most productive wildlife habitats in the world are lost forever.
My administration has made proposals for Alaskan lands that reconcile needs for development and conservation, working very closely with Members of the Congress, especially those behind me this morning. And I hope that the entire Congress and the administration can press forward together to complete action on these Alaskan lands this year.
I want to express especially my appreciation to Congressman Udall, to Senator Church, to Senator Jackson, to Congressman Roncalio, Congressman Weaver, and also to Secretary Bergland, who helped to make this bill possible. It's a great step forward for our country, and it will be appreciated by Americans many years in the future.
Thank you very much, gentlemen. I'm very proud of the things you have done. [At this point, the President signed the bill.]
Mo, if you and Frank and the others would like to make a brief statement, it would be appreciated.
REPRESENTATIVE UDALL. Well, I don't think I need to sit down. [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. This chair is not like that ladder I loaned you during the campaign.
REPRESENTATIVE UDALL. He was very generous with that ladder. [Laughter]
You know, like football teams, you have good years and bad years, and in some areas you're stronger than in others.
We're going to get an energy bill with the help of Scoop Jackson and you, Mr. President. We're going to do some other things. But in the resource and conservation area, this President and this Congress working together are going to do some things that history will remember.
We've done strip mining after 10 years. We've got endangered wilderness today. We've got Chattahoochee on the road now, this place in Georgia where we're having one of these great urban national parks. The President probably knows where it is. We've got redwoods coming along. And we're going to wrap it all up with Alaska.
That's the greatest resource conservation decision we made in my lifetime. And I was particularly pleased to hear the President give it a plug this morning. We're going to get it out of committee on our side in just a couple of weeks, and we hope the Senate will come along, too.
SENATOR CHURCH. Mr. President, I think Mo has just about said it all. As we've tried to do right by the Lower 48, we're going to try to do right by Alaska as well. I think this is one of the most important pieces of conservation legislation to be enacted in this session of the Congress.
I just want to congratulate you and your administration for the support you've given it and for the action you've taken in signing it into law today.
THE PRESIDENT. The original act was sponsored and supported strongly by two Senators who died recently, Senator Metcalf and Senator Humphrey. But I know that you and Mo and others here, and Scoop, were instrumental in the passage of that original legislation, which was a landmark in progress in our country. Scoop?
SENATOR JACKSON. Mr. President, I'd merely like to observe that you and your Cabinet officials and your staff have been superb in cooperation with the Congress. I think that's kind of welcome news, from what I've been reading in the press. [Laughter] It's been that way across the board. But I think this is an outstanding example of that teamwork. And we're very proud of your help and your support.
THE PRESIDENT. That is mutual. Thanks, Scoop. Anybody else?
Well, I want to thank all of you. This is a wonderful occasion for us. Bob Bergland and Cecil Andrus have both been after me to go out and visit some of these areas, and I look forward to doing that, hopefully, this year.