When historians review the contributions that the Department of Interior has made in the almost eight years of Bruce Babbitt’s leadership, they are likely to rank among the most outstanding of any administration over the course of the 20th Century. His leadership has been effective, committed and unrelenting.
Mr. Babbitt graduated from Notre Dame with a BA in Geology, took an MS in Geophysics from the University of Newcastle, England, and earned an L.L.B. from Harvard Law School. He served as Governor of Arizona 1978-1987, and Attorney General of Arizona, 1975-78. He was a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for President in 1988. It is unusual for such a high profile political figure to display the focus and unequivocal commitment to the environment, which has been a hallmark of Mr. Babbitt’s career. Much of this stems from a personal enthusiasm for the outdoors since he has been an avid outdoorsman all of his life. From the outset of his tenure as Secretary, he has been a forceful advocate for restoring funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
President Clinton appointed him Secretary of Interior in January 1993. The theme of his tenure as Secretary has been restoration. In his words, “Restoration is about having the power to visualize, to say that we can imagine a landscape that we don’t see today, that we can create, or recreate, a landscape that was seen by Lewis and Clark, Kit Carson, and our forebears. We can look to the past, and by understanding the past, visualize the future. And then engage communities and conservationists in the act of restoration. That has a lot of magic and power.”
During his tenure at the Department of Interior, Secretary Babbitt initiated a new direction in American conservation history – the development of large scale, consensus-based environmental restoration projects. With his consensus-based approach, Babbitt brought peace to California’s water wars with the historic Bay Delta accord; shaped the President’s old growth Forest plan in the Pacific Northwest; drafted interagency plans to restore the ecosystem of South Florida, the Everglades and Florida Bay; helped enact the massive California Desert Protection Act, the largest land protection bill ever enacted in the lower 48 states; forged new legislation for protection of our National Wildlife Refuges; returned entrance fees and concessions back into the parks that generated them; helped preserve the incomparable old growth Headwaters Forest; and negotiated the largest land swap in the history of the lower 48 states in order to protect the new Grand-Staircase monument and other parks in Utah.
His other restoration actions include being the first Secretary to restore fire to its natural role in the wild and to tear down dams, restoring rivers flowing into the Atlantic and the Pacific. He has been personally involved in demonstrating catch and release programs for endangered trout and salmon, to highlight how restoring native fish habitat restores economies.
Secretary Babbitt has breathed a new life into the Endangered Species Act with innovative use of Habitat Conservation Plans and recovery plans that have resulted in de-listing the peregrine falcon, the Aleutian Canada goose, the bald eagle and the gray wolf. He personally brought the first wolf back to Yellowstone where she later gave birth to pups. Today, more than 110 wolves can be seen and heard. Secretary Babbitt has left an enduring conservation legacy to the Nation.