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White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Cervantes Convention Center, St. Louis, Missouri,, Monday, August 29, 2005

Thank you. Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.  It's good to see you all.  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Where is Secretary Gale Norton?  I haven't seen her yet to say hello.  There you go.  Good.  Nice to see you, Gale.

I've been with Secretary Mike Johanns and Administrator Steve Johnson -- it's good to see all of you.  Is Senator Talent here?  Someone said he might make it.  He's doing such a great job on the Senate Armed Services Committee for all the men and women in uniform.

Elected officials at the federal, state and local levels - greetings.  It's a pleasure for me to join you for this 4th White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation.  President Bush's commitment to conservation is well-known.  As someone pointed out to me the other day, he's even using a recycled Secretary of Defense.

That's right after he introduced me as the only Secretary of Defense to serve in two centuries.

Thirty years apart.

This year’s conference was called by President George Bush.  But the first such conference, I'm told, was called in 1908 by another man of the west -- President Theodore Roosevelt.

The year before that, at the first conference, Teddy Roosevelt said to the United States Congress:

"To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead 
             of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of 
             our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them
             amplified and developed."

As with many issues, President Roosevelt was well ahead of his time.  He understood clearly the importance of conservation when many did not.  However, he also understood the importance of another issue -- a cause for concern then as well as today -- that of military readiness.

From his experience in the military, President Roosevelt knew that the military's ability to fight is only as good as its ability to train.  He said:

"Good ships and good guns are simply good weapons, and the best weapons are
            useless, save in the hands of men who know how to fight with them."

Like Theodore Roosevelt, the men and women at the Department of Defense understand the value of readiness and also the importance of cooperative conservation.  The fact is, that sustaining the readiness of our military depends on cooperative conservation.  I'd like to say a bit about what the Department is doing to improve both, and why they are inextricably linked.

The Department of Defense has been entrusted with some 30 million acres of this country's land on which to house and train our forces and to test the weapons that they will likely have to use in battle.  The duty to protect the natural resources of those lands is a profound responsibility.

In fact, conservation is much more than a duty.  It is really a proud part of the Department of Defense's heritage:

  • Lewis and Clark's "Corps of Discovery," which, commenced not too far from here centuries ago, was after all, a U.S. Army expedition that made some of the first and most
  • The founder of the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History built his first collections primarily from specimens collected by U.S. army officers stationed across America's West; and
  • The U.S. military rescued Yellowstone National Park, even before creation of the National Park Service, by protecting it from illegal activity [which included] logging, poaching and grazing some hundred years ago.

Today, that proud legacy continues.  For example, I'm told that the population of Red Cockaded Woodpeckers, an endangered species, has grown so successfully at military bases in the Southeast that over 100 birds have been exported to other federal, state, and private forests to help stabilize critical populations.  According to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, military bases are now among that state's most environmentally conscious communities.

If the Department of Defense were a business, readiness would be our bottom line.  Some folks seem to assume that the Department's conservation efforts tend to be in conflict with military readiness.  In fact, the opposite is usually true.  U.S. military ranges provide space to train our forces and to test equipment.  And their preservation is essential, because training wins wars and saves lives.  Troops fight as they train and they must train as they will need to fight. 

Let me offer an example.  Some of you may have heard of a soldier named Paul R. Smith.  He gave his life for our country and became the first service member since September 11th to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by the President of the United States.  In addition to his selfless heroism, it was his strict training and instruction that saved every one of the troops in his unit.  Their lives were saved during an ambush outside of Baghdad. 

His determination with respect to their training may not have endeared him to his troops before the war, but after that battle one said;

"Now I realize what he taught us saved our lives."

The Defense Department's policy is to link that life-saving readiness with sustainability through a balanced concern for the mission and the environment.  When those concerns are not balanced, the consequences can unfortunate, such as when troops deployed for operations in Iraq. 

The Department's goal is to balance life-saving training with conservation, as has been done at Fort Bragg.

For many years there, [inaudible] significantly curtailed during the mating season of an endangered species -- again, as it happens, the Red Cockaded Woodpecker.  It was argued by many that military training noise deterred mating.  However, I'm told that some 10,000 hours of surveillance tapes -- can you believe that – 10,000 hours of surveillance tapes -- finally demonstrated that military training noise had no discernable effect on those bird's reproductive success.

Hard data trumped old assumptions.  And today, training there continues for our forces as needed, and I presume so do the other activities of that species as appropriate.

Often, maintaining optimal readiness depends on cooperative conservation.  This is the case for many military bases that were once in the middle of nowhere, but now in the center of encroaching development.

In these cases, the Department of Defense is working with conservation groups and other agencies to try to limit adjacent development.  Partnerships are often the very best solution to the challenges of encroachment issues such as:

  • Suburban growth;
  • Noise complaints; and
  • Air space restrictions.

The best solutions to encroachment problems, we found, are partnerships with organizations, dedicated to conservation -- both governmental and non-governmental organizations -- to acquire from willing sellers conservation easements on nearby private lands.  Fortunately, legislation requested by the Department of Defense authorizing such partnerships was enacted in to law by Congress in 2002.

These partnerships can help forestall development and can protect habitats, there by conserving our natural resources while allowing U.S. forces to train relatively free of encroachment-related restrictions.

Consider the partnership project called the Northwest Florida Greenway.  The five major military installations there constitute one of the largest open-air military test areas in the United States.

However, the area has been experiencing rapid growth that has threatened the military mission.

Therefore, the Department partnered with three non-governmental organizations, seven state agencies, three regional and local agencies, and two other federal agencies, to work to conserve open space and compatible land use along a 100-mile corridor in northwest Florida.

The benefits have included:

  • Sustaining the military mission, especially U.S. military aircraft training routes;
  • Protecting the natural resources of what The Nature Conservancy has called one of America's six "biodiversity hotspots;” and
  • Strengthening the regional economy as well as strengthening tourism through outdoor recreation, such, as the Florida National Scenic Trail.

Some of the projects currently underway in:

  • California;
  • Colorado;
  • South Carolina;
  • Georgia;
  • Hawaii;
  • Minnesota; and
  • North Carolina -- at Camp Lejeune -- which I believe, like Northwest Florida Greenway, is the focus of one of this conference's sessions.

Beyond the state level, the Department is embarking on a Southeast Regional Planning pilot project that could include four Southeastern states and four of our military services.  We look forward to other federal agencies joining in this regional effort.

Conservation strategies have changed a good deal since I was a guide at Philmont Scout Ranch in northeastern New Mexico some 56 years ago.  Hard to believe – 56 years ago.  The old way of approaching conservation planning -- through individual efforts, and without cross-governmental partnerships -- will not work in a future of ever expanding competition for scarce resources.

With new partnerships, the Department of Defense is seeking to fulfill a mission that is as old as the military.  In the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, and on the order of our Commander and Chief, George W. Bush, the United States Armed Forces can and will continue to work to protect America -- both our lands, as well as our fellow citizens.

So, I thank each of you so much for all you do for the generations to come of Americans.  Thank you so very much, it's a pleasure to be with you.