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Bush names new park chief on Everglades stop

Bush: "This area needs our protection, and I'm here ... in the cause of preserving and protecting the Florida Everglades."  

From Major Garrett
CNN Washington Bureau

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Florida -- President Bush nominated Fran Mainella to head the National Park Service during a stop here Monday to tout his commitment to the national park system and, specifically, the Everglades.

Bush reiterated his pledge that his administration would be "good stewards" of the environment.

"Visitors from around the world come to this beautiful state to see the coasts and the Keys and the sandy beaches," Bush said. "Today, we're standing in just as wondrous a scene in Florida and just as an important part of this state. It commands our care and attention. This area needs our protection, and I'm here to join with your governor in the cause of preserving and protecting the Florida Everglades."

Mainella is director of the division of recreation and parks for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. She supervises eight bureaus throughout the state and more than 1,000 employees. An administration official said Mainella has held this post for 12 years.

While at the Everglades park, Bush touted a $58 million increase he is proposing in next year's budget for the fund to restore the entire Everglades. That would boost the federal contribution for 2002 to $219 million, a 36 percent increase over the last Clinton budget.

The Everglades encompasses not the just park but a total of about 4,000 square miles of shallow wetlands from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay at the bottom of the peninsula. Much of the original River of Grass outside the park has been channelized and drained for farmland.

"Working together, the state of Florida and the federal government will provide nearly $8 billion in the coming decade for Everglades restoration," Bush said.

The president's brother, Florida's Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, flew to Florida aboard Air Force One and joined the president at the Everglades event.

Bush has placed a high priority on the younger Jeb's re-election. This is his third trip to Florida since his inauguration, and the first to South Florida -- ground zero for much of the recount controversy in last November's election.

The brothers have clashed on one environmental issue: drilling off Florida's western coast.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton recently overruled Jeb Bush's objections and said the federal government intends to lease 5.9 million acres off the Florida coast for oil and natural gas drilling.

The drilling site is about 100 miles south of the Florida Panhandle. A final decision is due in October.

Organized by the Sierra Club, protesters opposed to Bush's environmental policies assembled at the main Everglades National Park visitor's center. Democratic Rep. Peter Deutsch of Florida was scheduled to respond to Bush's announcement later in the day.

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