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Remarks by President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on the Signing of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009

Location: Washington, DC


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SEC. SALAZAR: (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. It is an honor to be here today with all of you who worked so hard for so many years to write this new chapter for America's treasured landscapes.

Over the last two centuries, America's best ideas for protecting our vast lands and open spaces have often arrived while our country has faced its greatest trials. It was in the midst of our nation's bloodiest conflict, the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln set aside the lands that are now known as Yosemite National Park. It was at the dawn of the 20th century, with our cities and industries growing and our open lands and watersheds disappearing, that President Teddy Roosevelt expanded our national parks and set aside the world's largest system of lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, the National Wildlife Refuge System. And it was in the darkest days -- in the darkest days of the Great Depression -- that President Franklin Roosevelt put 3 million young Americans to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. They built the trails, the campgrounds, the parks and conservation projects that we so enjoy today.

In these moments, when our national character is most tested, we rightly seek to protect that which fuels our spirit. For America's national character, our optimism, our dreams, our shared stories are all rooted in our landscapes. We each have the places that we love.

For me, it is the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. It is the lands my family has farmed for five generations, the waters of the San Antonio River, the snows on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

As Americans, we are all defined most by our people and our places. President Barack Obama is one of those Americans. As a young boy, he discovered the beautiful landscapes of America with his grandmother, his mother and his sister. They drove from Seattle down the coast to California. They saw the Grand Canyon, the Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and then they saw Yellowstone. Those experiences, those places binds us together as one people.

Yes, we are in a time of deep uncertainty and economic pain, but for Americans, moments of crisis are opportunities to rebuild, renew and restore the places we cherish.

We now are at such a moment in our nation's history, a transformational moment, a new beginning, led by a president who tells us it is time once again for America's best ideas; it is time once again to create for our children and our grandchildren a legacy of stewardship on the scale of the challenges that we face.

Our population has nearly doubled since John Kennedy, as our president, created the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the 1960s. And although we have made progress, our open lands, wetlands and wildlife are still disappearing as we have now gone over 300 million people. But in a few minutes, President Barack Obama will sign legislation that represents one of the most significant protections for our treasured landscapes in a generation. He will do so less than a hundred days into his presidency.

This legislation will put into law the 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System with the Bureau of Land Management. It will add 2 million acres of new wilderness across the entire country. It will preserve 1,000 new miles of wild and scenic rivers. And it will better protect some of America's most special places, from Oregon's Mount Hood to the dinosaur tracks of New Mexico, and Virginia' wild forests.

This bill is a herculean first step forward in President Obama and the nation's agenda for our open land. It would not have happened, it would not have happened without the patient and tireless efforts of the members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

This bill represents the best of what America has to offer -- hardworking citizens who are saving historic sites in their communities so that we never forget our past; tribal leaders who are here today who are forging solutions to complex and long-standing natural resource challenges that they face; mayors and county commissioners who are protecting the back-country for hunters and anglers and hikers; business leaders who know that good stewardship makes good economic sense because it builds economies; and the many members, including the leadership of the House and the Senate who are here today, Republicans and Democrats together, including our great leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and all the leaders who are here assembled today from both chambers, because without their leadership and their persistence, persistence time and time again, we would not be here today at this moment.

This historic legislation lays the foundation for the agenda for America's treasured landscapes that President Obama has asked me to work on on his behalf and on the nation's behalf. I am proud this bill is here today. I am proud of the bipartisan work that went into this legislation. And I am honored to introduce to all of you the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much. (Applause continuing.) Thank you. Please, everybody, be seated.

Well, thank you so much, Ken, for that extraordinary introduction and for the work that you and your team are undertaking at the Department of the Interior. We're going to add a little bit to your plate today as a consequence of this extraordinary piece of legislation.

I want to thank all the members of the legislature who helped to craft this. Many of them are on the stage here today. Obviously, I've got to single out the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for her extraordinary leadership, but also our leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, who worked so diligently on this bill and made sure that it got done. And so please give all of these legislators a big round of applause. (Applause.)

If you'll indulge me, there are just a couple other people I want to acknowledge. Nancy Sutley, who is the chair of our Council on Environmental Quality, who is here. Where is Nancy? There she is, right in front. (Applause.) Jane Lubchenco, who is the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Please, Jane. (Applause.) We're thrilled to have her.

A couple of great friends from Indian Nation. President Joe Shirley of Navajo Nation, who is here. Go ahead, Joe, stand up. (Applause.) And Tribal Chairman Robert Bear of the Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Tribes. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

The -- it is fitting that we meet on a day like this. You know, winter's hardships are slowly giving way to spring. And our thoughts naturally tend to turn to the outdoors.

We emerge from the shelter offered by home and work. And we look around. And we're reminded that the most valuable things in this life are those things that we already possess.

You know, as Americans, we possess few blessings greater than the vast and varied landscapes that stretch the breadth of our continent. Our lands have always provided great bounty: food and shelter for the first Americans, for settlers and pioneers, the raw materials that grew our industry, the energy that powers our economy. What these gifts require in return is our wise and responsible stewardships.

As our greatest conservationist president, Teddy Roosevelt, put it almost a century ago, I've recognized the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land. But I do not recognize the right to waste them or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.

That's the spirit behind the bipartisan legislation I'm signing today, legislation among the most important in decades, to protect, preserve and pass down our nation's most treasured landscapes to future generations.

You know, many senators and congressmen here deserve enormous credit for making this bill possible. I'm grateful to all their hard work. As I've mentioned before, Harry Reid made this a top priority. He made sure this was the first bill the Senate passed this year. This day would not be possible without his tireless dedication to protecting our treasured lands.

This legislation -- just to give you a sense of the scope, this legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments and wilderness areas for granted. But rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity, for everyone to share.

That's something all Americans can support. And that's why so much of this legislation, some of it decades in the making, has the backing of Americans from every walk of life and corner of this country -- ranchers and fishermen, small-business owners, environmentalists, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats on the local, state and federal levels, all united around the idea that there should be places that we must preserve, all doing the hard work of seeking common ground, to protect the parks and other places that we cherish.

We're talking about places like Colorado, where this bill will realize a vision 35 years in the making, by protecting the wild back country of Rocky Mountain National Park, which attract 3 million visitors a year.

Folks in communities around this park know they don't have to choose between economic and environmental concerns. The tourism that drives their local economy depends on good stewardship of their local environment. And year after year, these communities have worked together, with members of Congress, in an attempt to ensure that Rocky Mountain National Park will forever remain as breathtaking as it is today.

And that is what this bill does, from coast to coast.

It protects treasured places, from the Appalachians of Virginia and West Virginia to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, from the canyons of Idaho to the sandstone cliffs of Utah, from the Sierra Nevadas in California to the badlands of Oregon.

It designates more than 2 million acres across nine states as wilderness, almost as much as was designated over the past eight years combined. It creates thousands of miles of new scenic, historic and recreational trails, cares for our historic battlefields, strengthens our national park system. It safeguards more than a thousand miles of our rivers, protects watersheds and cleans up polluted groundwater, defends our oceans and Great Lakes and will revitalize our fisheries, returning fish to rivers that have not seen them in decades.

And it wisely faces our future challenges with regard to water. This bill assesses how growth and climate change will affect our access to water resources, especially in the West and Southwest, and it includes solutions to complex and long-simmering water disputes.

It's hard to overstate the real and measurable impact this will have on people's lives, people like Frank Chee Willeto, a Navajo code talker in World War II who has joined us today. And because of this legislation, Frank, along with 80,000 others in the Navajo nation, will have access to clean, running water for the very first time. (Applause.) That's something worth applauding. Thank you for your service. (Applause continues.)

When coupled with the recovery act, which makes an historic $3- billion investment creating jobs that will restore and protect our landscapes and our ecosystems, preserve our national monuments, retrofit our facilities for energy efficiency and renewable energy -- taken together, today's legislation takes another step towards fulfilling Teddy Roosevelt's vision for this land that we love. It's a vision that sees America's great wilderness as a place where it was -- and what is and what will be all are the same, a place where memories are lived and relived, a place where Americans both young and young at heart can freely experience the spirit of adventure that has always been at the heart of the rugged character of America.

Now, the legislation I'm signing today also makes progress on another front for which many Americans have long waited. And the Christopher and Dana Reeves Paralysis Act is the first piece of comprehensive legislation specifically aimed at addressing the challenges faced by Americans living with paralysis. (Applause.)

Many folks and organizations from across the disability community worked hard to get this passed, and we are grateful to each of you for bringing us that much closer to providing all Americans with disabilities a full, fair and equal opportunity to achieve the American dream.

This act creates new coordinated research activities through the National Institutes of Health that will connect the best minds and best practices from the best labs in the country, and focus their endeavors through collaborative scientific research into the cure for paralysis, saving effort, money and, most importantly, time. It promotes enhanced rehabilitation services for paralyzed Americans, helping develop better equipment and technology that will allow them to live full and independent lives free from unnecessary barriers. And it will work to improve the quality of life for all those who live with paralysis, no matter what the (cause/costs ?).

That's the mission of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. In the lobby of their facility in New Jersey sits Christopher's empty wheelchair. And his son Matthew Reeve was once asked if the sight of it ever saddened him, and he replied no. He said, "Empty chairs? That was Dad's goal," he said. "We hope that there will be many more of them."

Matthew's here with us today, and the legislation I'm about to sign makes solid progress toward the realization of that hope and the promise of a brighter future.

All in all, this legislation is that rare end product of what happens when Americans of all parties and places come together in common purpose to consider something more than the politics of the moment. It's the very idea at the heart of this country: that each generation has a responsibility to secure this nation's promise for the next. And by signing this bill into law, that's what we're doing today.

So the -- is Matthew here, by the way?

MS. : He is back here.

MR. : There he is. Let's --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Matthew, come on up here. (Applause.)

MR. : Looks just like his dad.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: He look likes like his dad, doesn't he?


All right. Let's sign this bill. (Off-mike exchanges.)

(Signs bill.) There we go. (Cheers, applause.)


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