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Babbit pushes for harmony

June 24, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Restoration of environmental resources is not about just protecting the reserves themselves - it can lead to revitalized communities, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit said here Thursday.

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Babbit, speaking to a conservation group at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Conservation and Training Center, recounted several of his personal experiences building wildlife populations in the West, including introducing rainbow trout in the Truckee River near Las Vegas.

The resulting increase in the fish population brought more people to the river in cities such as Reno, sparking a renewed interest in the river communities, Babbit said.

Babbit also supports demolition of dams to help restore rivers.

There has been dicussion about removing dams which have only marginal value when it comes to generating hydroelectric power and other uses, said Rick Lemon, chief of the training center.

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Also, dams can interrupt fish migration patterns, said training center spokesman Steve Chase.

Babbit said he first started talking about demolition of dams in 1993 in Wyoming. His wish to publicly witness the razing of a dam did not sit well with people in Wyoming, Babbit recalled.

"I'll never forget about being driven out of the West," he said jokingly.

Babbit spoke on the last day of the four-day Millennium Conference sponsored by The Orion Society, a Massachusetts-based conservation group. The organization brought more than 500 people to the training center to chart a course for the country's environmental movement.

Babbit said protecting natural resources is an effort that has to be carried out in each community.

Past efforts to save green space have focused on setting up boundaries that clearly divide sensitive areas from other lands, he said. Too many times, the mindset has been to "protect the back 40 and do whatever you want" with the rest of the land.

"Of course God's creation doesn't work that way. It only works when it's all together. We've got to think of a way to live in harmony," Babbit told the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech.

Babbit said he had several experiences releasing animals into the wild, which made him appreciate the country's wildlife resources. Babbit said he once helped release a group of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.

Babbit said he was mesmerized when he stared back into the cage and saw the wild in the eyes of the animals.

"I finally got the idea that this is theirs, and that they were coming home," Babbit said.

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