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White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation

By Bruce Engelbert, OSWER

The White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation was held in St. Louis, the last week in August.  President Bush had asked the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Agriculture and Interior and CEQ and EPA to jointly sponsor and organize this event.  Its purpose was to strengthen conservation partnerships between the federal government and  states, tribes, and local communities and to promote citizen stewardship of natural and cultural resources.  Over one thousand people participated.  The first day was devoted to presentations from a wide variety of projects that showcased multi-party partnership and collaboration.  The second day consisted of a number of facilitated dialogue sessions to generate ideas for encouraging more and stronger cooperation.

A speech by the Secretary of Defense (he said all the right things about the importance of military bases being good environmental citizens) was followed later in the afternoon by a speech from Chuck Leavell, who has played keyboard for the last 20 years with the Rolling Stones.  Leavell, jetting in from the previous evening’s Stones concert in Ottawa,  gave an entertaining and inspiring address on his experiences with forest management (when not on tour with the Stones, he manages his timber farm in Georgia).  The most passionate speech was from Ward Burton, the winner of the 2004 Daytona 500.  He talked about his life growing up in the Virginia woods and how, what he calls, nature deficit disorder is insidiously undermining not only conservation efforts, but the long term health of this country and its people.

EPA Administrator Steve Johnson participated in the conference all three days as did Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton.  She announced that the administration would soon be requesting  legislation to support cooperative conservation projects.  However, she provided no details about what might be included in such a proposal.  Every speechmaker at the conference professed an allegiance to the importance of greater coordination and collaboration.  Yet it was clear from the summary of the dialogue sessions, provided on the final day, that complete agreement on what cooperative conservation really means or how to nurture it remains somewhat elusive.  Some of the key themes presented during the wrap-up session:

This conference was an interesting and rich consideration of what goes into cooperative conservation.  It was also a recognition of the considerable achievements of various successful partnerships.  However, whether it will usher in a renewed national commitment to resource stewardship and environmental protection, as Larry Schweiger, President of the National Wildlife Federation suggested, remains to be seen.

The conference organizers intend to put proceedings from the conference on the web site
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