George Bush photo

Remarks to Members of Ducks Unlimited

June 08, 1989

Thank you, Harry, very, very much, and all of you for that warm welcome. Every member of Ducks Unlimited can eat his heart out -- or hers -- and I say that because you should be very jealous of me. You ought to see the beautiful carvings that you all gave to me carved by Bill Veasey -- two ducks -- one of the most spectacular pieces of duck artwork that I believe I've ever seen. And so, I'm grateful to all of you for that presentation that Harry made.

I want to salute the Members of Congress that are here. I want to pay my respects to the head of the EPA, Bill Reilly. We are very fortunate to have him leading our Environmental Protection Agency. I want to pay my respects to our Secretary, Manuel Lujan, who is going to do a fantastic job for us. I served with him in the Congress, and he rates and merits your confidence. Mike Deland was supposed to be here, and he -- showing the fact that he's human -- he is caught up at the airport in Washington right now -- [laughter] -- so I expect we'll see him in a while. But most of you know him. And I would simply say that the Members of Congress and friends -- it's a real pleasure to be here.

One of my greatest pleasures is going fishing with my grandchildren and seeing the Grand Tetons through the eyes of a 10-year-old grandson or teaching our 6-year-old twin granddaughters -- now Texans again -- the wonders of the ocean -- makes life really sing for me. And when I am out in the great outdoors with my own kids or grandkids, I realize how true it is that our children will inherit the Earth. And so, any vision of a kinder, gentler America -- any nation concerned about its quality of life, now and forever, must be concerned about conservation. It will not be enough to merely halt the damage we've done; our natural heritage must be recovered and restored. And we saw it at Mount St. Helens, and we see it now at Yellowstone Park and in the growth of spring: nature healing its wounds, coming back to life. We can and should be nature's advocate. And that means an active stewardship of the natural world. And it's time to renew the environmental ethic in America and to renew U.S. leadership on environmental issues around the world. Renewal is the way of nature, and it must now become the way of man.

And that's why I so readily accepted when Harry invited me, and that's why I wanted to talk to you today. When this organization was founded over 50 years ago, in the Dust Bowl days, there was just a handful of you committed to preserving and restoring our wetlands. And just about that time, a few hunters got together and formed a little group called Ducks Unlimited; and thank goodness they did. And since then, you've set aside, I am told, over 5 million acres as habitat, raised nearly half a billion dollars, started wetlands projects in each of the 50 States, for a simple reason: 75 percent of the remaining wetlands in the continental U.S. are privately owned. We can't do it without your help. The partnerships you've set up with State and Federal agencies and with conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Foundation have been outstanding.

And that's good news for ducks. Remember, though, what Dick Darman [Director of the Office of Management and Budget] said about taxes. Anything that looks like a duck or walks like a duck or quacks like a duck is going to hear from him. [Laughter] The poor guy; the very thought of Ducks Unlimited keeps him up at night. [Laughter] But your work is even better news for America, for what you're doing represents just the kind of local, on-site private sector initiative that we must bring to every environmental challenge.

As you know too well, our wetlands are being lost at a rate of nearly half a million acres a year. So, every year, fewer mallards and pintails make it to the pothole country. You may remember my pledge, that our national goal would be no net loss of wetlands. And together, we are going to deliver on the promise of renewal, and I plan to keep that pledge. I've set up an interagency task force, under our Domestic Policy Council, to work with you, with governments at all levels, with the private sector, to stop the destruction of those precious habitats. Their first task is to develop a united Federal policy for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan here, and in Canada as well -- and Canada has lost over 40 percent of her wetlands. And the time has come to simply say, "Stop!"

And to support the plan, this week Secretary Lujan proposed a new trust fund, using interest from the Pittman-Robertson Fund, that would contribute about $10 million. And our goal is to restore a fall flight of more than 100 million birds. And we're looking at legislation from Senators Mitchell and Chafee, Congressmen Dingell and Conte, and there are a few details to be worked out, but the basic thrust of the legislation is sound. I look forward to signing a bill to conserve North American wetlands this year. And we've asked for nearly $200 million in new funding for acquisitions under the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We've also increased funding for coordinated water quality programs to protect the wetlands we already have, and for the first time in 7 years, some of those dollars will go towards acquiring wetlands.

But we're looking far beyond the Federal role. We want to improve the management of federally owned wetlands by leasing them to concerned groups like yours. And you know, the local momentum is picking up. Just last month, Maryland's Governor Schaefer approved the Nation's first State nontidal wetlands law, and it's an outstanding piece of work. Bill Reilly emerged as a key supporter for that bill, and I certainly would encourage him to do more; but in his case, he's the one that's encouraging me to do more all the time. And again, I'm grateful for his leadership.

We're working with American farmers through the farm bill program to provide technical assistance for wetland conservation. Wherever wetlands must give way to farming or development, they will be replaced or expanded elsewhere. It's time to stand the history of wetlands destruction on its head. From this year forward, anyone who tries to drain the swamp is going to be up to his ears in alligators. [Laughter]

Let me just spend a few minutes outlining our environmental philosophy. Our approach to wetlands conservation is driven by a new kind of environmentalism, a set of principles that apply to all of the environmental challenges that we face. We believe that pollution is not the inevitable byproduct of progress. So, the first principle is that sound ecology and a strong economy can coexist. But let's remember: The burden of proof is on man, not nature. And the fact is, our ecology and the economy are interdependent. Environmentalists and entrepreneurs must see how much their interests are held in common. It's time to harness the power of the marketplace in the service of the environment.

The second principle is that a true commitment to restoring the Nation's environment requires more than just a Federal commitment. The tradition of purely Federal, "top-down" directives will never again be enough. So, we're working to promote more creative State and local initiatives, drawing on the energy of local communities and the private sector into the cause -- pulling them into the cause of conservation. All of you in this room have made that commitment, and now it must be made an all-American commitment.

And our third principle is obvious, but too rarely acted on: that preventing pollution is a far more efficient strategy than struggling to deal with problems once they've occurred. For too long, we've focused on cleanup and penalties after the damage is done. It's time to reorient ourselves, using technologies and processes that reduce or prevent pollution -- to stop it before it starts. In the 1990's, pollution prevention will go right to the source.

Technology has given us tremendous, awesome power to alter the face of the Earth. We must use it to do good. Environmental soundness, industrial design must be partners. Industry is making -- and must continue to make -- environmental soundness an essential fact of American industrial life.

We've already taken several steps in that direction. And as you know, I've called for the elimination of CFC's [chlorofluorocarbons] by the year 2000. And we've also reviewed the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, those CAFE standards. We've tightened the standard, as the law originally intended. More efficient cars are good for our environment and good for our energy security. We're going to promote the use of alternative "neat" fuel technology. And I've proposed full funding to develop clean coal technology.

The fourth principle is a recognition that environmental problems respect no borders. I'm delighted to see the Ambassador from Canada here. So, we're working with nations around the world to provide leadership in finding cooperative international solutions. From Japan to Brazil, we're discussing ways to reverse rainforest devastation. And we've recommended a ban on international shipment of hazardous waste unless an agreement is signed that makes sure waste is disposed of safely. In Germany 2 weeks ago, I announced our intention to provide technical assistance and new technologies to the nations of Eastern Europe to help them handle pollution problems. And some of the rivers in those countries are now so polluted they can't even be used for industrial cooling because they're too corrosive. And even our recommendation to ban the importation of elephant ivory underscores this new international emphasis.

The fifth and final principle is that existing environmental laws will be vigorously and firmly enforced. And I've requested funds to hire more environmental prosecutors at the Justice Department. And next week, Bill Reilly will deliver to Congress a report on overhauling the Superfund program for hazardous waste. Our message about environmental law is simple: Polluters will pay.

And finally, on Monday, I will unveil the most sweeping changes to the Clean Air Act since it was last amended 12 years ago. And it will allow us to recover and restore precious forests, lakes, and streams. And whether Americans live near factories or in cities or in high woodland country, it'll significantly improve every North American's quality of life.

So, those are our five principles: harnessing the power of the marketplace, State and local initiative, promoting prevention, international cooperation, and strict enforcement.

But behind all of the studies, the figures, and the debates, the environment is a moral issue. For it is wrong to pass on to future generations a world tainted by present thoughtlessness. It is unjust to allow the natural splendor bestowed to us to be compromised. It is imperative that we preserve the Earth and all its blessings -- to meet the challenge of renewal.

Some 40 years ago, a man named Aldo Leopold wrote a book that some of you may have heard of. It was called "A Sand County Almanac." And in it, he talked about values, values that you and I share. "That land is to be loved and respected," Leopold wrote -- let me start -- "That land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics." That was 40 years ago. And since then, millions of acres of wetlands, habitat for so many plants and animals, have disappeared. And they continue to vanish at an alarming rate, some one-half million acres a year.

And I want to ask you today what the generations to follow will say of us 40 years from now. It could be they'll report the loss of many million acres more, the extinction of species, the disappearance of wilderness and wildlife; or they could report something else. They could report that sometime around 1989 things began to change and that we began to hold on to our parks and refuges and that we protected our species and that in that year the seeds of a new policy about our valuable wetlands were sown, a policy summed up in three simple words: "No net loss." And I prefer the second vision of America's environmental future.

A man I greatly admire, Theodore Roosevelt, was the first President to act on that ideal. And when he set aside the Grand Canyon as a national monument of nature, his words of warning were driven by great personal conviction. "Leave it as it is," he said. "You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children and your children's children."

Recovery, restoration, and renewal -- that is our moral imperative. And from today forward, it is the ethical legacy we must inspire in every American.

To one of the great private sector organizations in America, I thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at the Sixth International Waterfowl Symposium at 1:10 p.m. in the Arlington Ballroom at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, VA. In his opening remarks, he referred to Harry D. Knight, president of Ducks Unlimited, and Michael R. Deland, member-designate of the Council on Environmental Quality.

George Bush, Remarks to Members of Ducks Unlimited Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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