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Bush wants more bucks for natural areas

By Major Garrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will seek sizable increases in spending on the National Park Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System, even as the White House pushes energy exploration in environmentally sensitive areas, according to administration sources.

The president will seek unspecified increases in funding for the National Park Service and an increase of $56.5 million for refuge system, run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

In last year's budget, Bush sought an increase of $4.9 billion over five years for the Park Service to improve maintenance.

Congress boosted funding for National Park Service operations by $91 million last year and officials said Bush would lean on Congress for further increases this year.

The wildlife refuge budget supports 538 wildlife refuges and various wildlife education programs. The president will seek 18 percent more funding above the 2002 budget allotment of $319 million.

The 2003 budget year begins October 1.

Bush last year also pressed for increases in funding for restoration of the Florida Everglades and won $120 million from Congress, $36 million more than had been spent in the last Clinton budget.

Even as Bush seeks spending increases for these environmental and Park Service programs, he will push this year for expanded drilling for oil and natural gas in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other public lands.

Bush and Congress clashed over early Bush efforts to open up the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling, and lawmakers were poised to reject the president's proposals when the White House agreed to scale back the proposed area of drilling to one-quarter of its original size.

The president has urged the Democrat-controlled Senate to debate his energy plan early this year and the White House is working aggressively to marshal the 60 votes necessary to defeat an expected filibuster to block drilling in the arctic preserve.

The White House also sought to open up national monuments to energy exploration, a move Congress rejected.

The president will outline many new spending proposals in his State of the Union speech on January 29 and submit his 2003 budget to Congress on February 4.

The National Wildlife Refuge System will turn 100 this year. The brainchild of President Theodore Roosevelt, it began with the federal protection of an island of Florida's east coast so pelicans and other birds could nest free from human hunters.

It has grown considerably since then, accounting for 94 million acres of wildlife habitat protected from most human intrusion.




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