"The era of mandates from Washington is giving way in the Bush administration to common-sense solutions," Norton told the Center for Private Conservation.
"I know from experience that the best natural resource planning is done at the local level and involves private landowners who know and love their land. When they're brought into the process early, they can feel invested in solutions and how their decisions are implemented."
Norton stressed the difference between the litigous system of the Clinton administration versus the cooperative approach of Bush. She noted that two new programs in the FY 2002 budget will encourage landowners to become involved in policy-making earlier in the process and will also provide incentives compliance with conservation objectives.
Other participants at the meeting included trade groups representing cattle, commercial fisheries, logging, as well as other think tanks, including the liberatarian Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
These groups reacted warmly to the approach favored by Norton.
"Private landowners are often the best stewards of our land," she said. "We can achieve better environmental results by working with them."
The approach favored by Clinton "creates a system of conflict and hardship ... instead of stewardship."
Norton said lawsuits filed by environmental groups under the Endangered Species Act have clogged the courts and diverted crucial resources of the Interior Department. Norton said she wanted resources allocated more sensibly.
"For too long [we have been] spending crucial funding paying lawyer bills and fighting in courtrooms, instead of protecting species," she said. "Too often, attorneys in courtrooms decide which species live and which don't."
To change this system, Norton will propose that while current lawsuits should be settled or fought, new ones can be handled by a new system of prioritizing which species need the most protection and work with state and local regulators in conjunction with landowners.
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