Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Take Pride in America Awards

July 26, 1988

Well, today we're honoring the people who honor America by keeping her beautiful. And believe me, you can travel around the world, but there's no country on Earth that can surpass the physical beauty of the United States. Our national parks, forests, waterways, monuments, and other public lands are national treasures that we hold in common. They are America's crown jewels, and we're the custodians who must preserve them, enjoy them, and pass them on to the next generation.

Now what this means is that people who mistreat these lands are really stealing from others, from their fellow citizens and from future generations. And there's no reason for us to tolerate that. Ask Lou Gossett, Clint Eastwood, or Charles Bronson if they get angry when people abuse our public lands. As these Take Pride spokesmen symbolize, there's a code of conduct, a code of honor, that separates right from wrong; and part of that code guides how we care for our national parks and public lands. As Lou, Clint, and Charlie have put it: That's the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.

You know, I'm reminded of an old story-and believe me, this time it is an old story. If you have heard it, pretend you haven't. [Laughter] It's about those two fellows that were out hiking in the woods and suddenly looked up and saw a grizzly bear coming over the hill toward them. One of them immediately reached into his pack, pulled out a pair of sneakers, started removing his boots and putting on the sneakers. And the other one standing there says, "You don't think you can outrun that grizzly, do you?" And he said, "I don't have to. I just have to be able to outrun you." [Laughter] Now, Clint would have just said, "Go ahead, make my day." [Laughter]

Well, the truth is every citizen, school, civic group, business, and community that takes pride in America by taking care of this great and beautiful land of ours helps to make my day. And to all of you, the 94 winners of the Take Pride in America National Awards and everyone who participated, I can tell you that I and your fellow citizens are proud of you and grateful to you. You've helped clean litter out of the Grand Canyon, given medical care to Alaskan wildlife, planted gardens in Philadelphia, and helped preserve the wetlands of California—and much, much more.

President Theodore Roosevelt, who began our system of national parks and forests, said that "A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral." And by respecting the land that we share, we respect one another. To preserve America's beauty, we have to work together. Private sector activities, as we recognize today, are irreplaceable, but the role of government is also vital. In fact, nearly one-third of our country's land is owned by the Federal Government.

In 1982 we began a $1 billion restoration program to improve and protect our national parks, thereby ending some years of neglect. We've added millions of acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Since 1981 the number of rivers protected as "wild and scenic" has more than tripled. And 34 new national wildlife refuges, totaling over 400,000 acres in 20 States, have also been added. And our administration has made more than 270 additions to the endangered and threatened species list. But we've done more than just make a list; we've put new emphasis on restoring animal populations, with over 180 recovery plans, compared to just 36 approved under the previous administration.

We've kept America's commitment to land and wildlife management, clean air, clean water, and a healthier environment for us all. The EPA is working with the States to deal with the natural hazard posed by radon gas, and emissions of manmade pollutants into the air have been significantly reduced. Using Superfund, we have completed work at more than 1,000 emergency hazardous waste sites. Work is currently underway at 700 sites on the national priority list.

Our administration has set the highest standards for enforcing environmental protection laws. And just in our first term alone, we filed 852 civil enforcement actions-that's nearly 21/2 times the rate of the previous administration. But we didn't stop there. We took it one step further and established the environmental crimes unit because in the past virtually no environmental cases were criminally prosecuted. The result is that, during the past 5 years, we've obtained over 400 criminal indictments and over 300 convictions and guilty pleas. And the message to polluters is crystal clear. We told them, in the words of Dirty Harry, "You're out of luck."

Cleaner air, cleaner water, increased protection of American wildlife—this progrowth administration has also been staunchly proenvironment. The same spirit of creativity and innovation that's created 17 million jobs has also benefited the land itself, making America the beautiful more beautiful still.

Perhaps best of all, there are people like you throughout the country, taking pride in America and protecting the abundant majesty of our nation. This concern and dedication is also part of our heritage. Throughout our history, caring individuals have bequeathed great parks, forests, wildlife preserves, and historic sites to a nation that they love and cherish. And the award winners we recognize today are their moral heirs and successors—individuals working together and accomplishing great things. That's something America can truly be proud of. And for all that you all are doing, thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:01 a.m. at the South Portico of the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Take Pride in America Awards Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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