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A New Wave of National Parks

June 6, 2011 by Laura Bush

Former First Lady Laura Bush writes in The Wall Street Journal that our ocean frontiers are disappearing, and it is up to us to conserve the most important wild areas that remain. Our first national park was named not after a mountain or forest but for a mighty river: Yellowstone. For centuries the world's waters have connected us. Explorers, traders, scientists and fishermen have traveled our oceans and rivers in search of new resources and a greater understanding of the world. This Wednesday, as we mark World Oceans Day, we must intensify our efforts to better understand, manage and conserve our waters and marine habitats if they are to remain a vibrant source of life for future generations. Great progress has been made in protecting our environment over the past several decades, but too little of that progress addresses 70% of the world's surface?our oceans. Less than one-half of 1% of the world's oceans are protected in ways that will ensure they stay wild. Too often overharvesting depletes what should be a lasting bounty of fish. In some parts of the oceans today up to 90% of large fish are gone from natural ecosystems. Our oceans are also where much of our trash and pollution end up. Plastics and other pollutants difficult to break down are killing fish, turtles and birds. Currents in the Pacific have created a plastic garbage dump twice the size of Texas. A few years ago, I visited Midway Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and was shocked to find debris killing birds that could not distinguish between plastic refuse and squid. We are at risk of permanently losing vital marine resources and harming our quality of life. Overfishing and degrading our ocean waters damages the habitats needed to sustain diverse marine populations. Perhaps the most vital function our oceans serve is that of climate regulator?they produce oxygen, reduce pollution, and remove carbon dioxide. If we don't protect our oceans, we could witness the destruction of some of the world's most beautiful and important natural resources. Fortunately, Yellowstone offers a blueprint for protecting our oceans. President Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park in 1872 at a time when large wild areas on the frontier were at risk. The founding of Yellowstone sparked a 50-year period during which many of the national parks we enjoy today were created. Our country began to see the value of setting aside large territories that would remain wild forever. Our national parks play an outsized role in maintaining healthy and diverse wildlife populations far beyond their boundaries. Many of the elk, deer and wolves seen throughout Western states trace their lineage to populations in Yellowstone. In the early 1970s, the U.S. established a modest program to conserve some of its most important marine areas, called the National Marine Sanctuary System. In June 2006 and again in January 2009, the U.S. expanded the concept of parkland and wilderness preserves in the sea when President Bush designated four marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean. The first of these, the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument, encompasses a 100-mile wide area of nearly pristine habitat northwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, and was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2010. A second area, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, includes the world's deepest canyon and is home to some of the oldest and most resilient forms of life on the planet. The other two monuments are the Pacific Remote Islands dispersed throughout the Pacific Ocean and the Rose Atoll in American Samoa. These four monuments cover more than 330,000 square miles and add up to the largest fully protected marine area in the world, larger than all of our national parks and wildlife refuges combined. They support vast numbers of fish, breathtakingly beautiful coral habitat, and a remarkable abundance of sharks?often seen as markers of an ecosystem's health. These monuments will remain open to shipping and other uses that will allow the economies and cultures of nearby American territories to prosper. But they will also remain a wild resource, a place where scientists can make new discoveries and where a variety of species can thrive. The U.S. was able to protect these areas because they fall within the Exclusive Economic Zone that surrounds our territories, and because the U.S. provides the means to manage them. America is not alone in its efforts to preserve marine treasures. Australia has expanded its protection of parts of the Great Barrier Reef and the United Kingdom announced the designation of the Chagos Islands Marine Reserve in 2010. Dedicated conservation organizations, such as the Pew Environment Group, are sounding the call to action. Their efforts have supported the designation of more than half the world's protected marine waters. In the coming years, protecting our oceans will be even more important. Nearly half of the world's population lives within 60 miles of an ocean, and that percentage will rise as more people settle in coastal communities. Today there are few waters outside the reach of human exploitation. Our wild ocean frontiers are disappearing and, like we did with Yellowstone, it is up to us to conserve the most important wild areas that remain. Doing so will preserve something that is all too easy to destroy but impossible to replace: natural, undisturbed incubators of life.

Mrs. Bush is former first lady of the United States.


Author

Laura Bush
Laura Bush

Laura Bush, former First Lady of the United States, is an advocate for literacy, education, and women’s rights. After leaving the White House, President and Mrs. Bush founded the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. The Center is home to the Bush Presidential Museum and Library and the George W. Bush Institute, a public policy center established to advance human freedom, economic growth, education reform, and global health.

Today Mrs. Bush pursues her work on global healthcare innovations, and empowering women in emerging democracies through the George W. Bush Institute. She serves as the Chair for the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative, guiding the Institute’s programs to advance economic opportunity, good health and human freedom for women and girls. Women’s Initiative programs are training women leaders in Egypt, raising awareness of Afghan women’s progress and plight, and convening African first ladies, government officials and public-private partnerships to invest in women’s health to strengthen Africa.

Laura Bush is a leading voice for spreading freedom and promoting human rights across the globe. For more than a decade, she has led efforts through the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council to protect the hard-earned rights of women in that country. As First Lady, she made three trips to Afghanistan and in 2001 she delivered the President’s weekly radio address – a first for a First Lady – to direct international attention to the Taliban’s oppression of women.

Long a supporter of the people of Burma, in 2006 Laura Bush hosted a roundtable discussion on Burma at the United Nations headquarters in New York. After Cyclone Nargis devastated the country in May 2008, she held an unprecedented press conference in the White House Press Briefing Room and urged the ruling junta to accept international aid. She then traveled to the Thai-Burma border, where she met with Burmese refugees. In 2012, Mrs. Bush helped to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal to Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The legislation for the medal, signed by President Bush, had been awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi in 2008 when she was under house arrest.

As First Lady, Mrs. Bush advocated the importance of literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and to foster healthy families and communities. She highlighted the importance of preparing children to become lifelong learners, convening in 2001 a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development. Since 2003, she has served as the Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade. Laura Bush visited schools and met with students in nations from Afghanistan to Zambia, with a particular focus on the education of girls and women. Mrs. Bush worked with the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. in 2001. The National Book Festival continues to this day and annually attracts more than 120,000 Americans. The Texas Book Festival in Austin was founded in 1996 by Mrs. Bush while she was First Lady of Texas. At the Bush Institute in Dallas, President and Mrs. Bush’s Education Reform initiative works to improve student achievement through effective school leadership, middle school transformation, and the use of accountability.

Because heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women, in 2003 Laura Bush partnered with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to launch The Heart Truth campaign and the Red Dress project. The Heart Truth campaign aims to raise awareness among women about their risk for heart disease. In 2006, she helped launch the first international partnerships for breast cancer awareness and research. As First Lady, she visited countries in Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America to support programs that help women detect breast cancer early so they can seek treatment when it has the best chance of success. Mrs. Bush has visited more than a dozen countries to support the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President’s Malaria Initiative. Today through the Bush Institute, Laura and George Bush continue their work to promote women’s health through Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a health initiative that adds the testing and treatment of cervical and breast cancer to PEPFAR in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mrs. Bush is the author of the bestselling memoir, Spoken From the Heart, and bestselling children’s book, Our Great Big Backyard. She serves on many boards, including the National Advisory Board for the Salvation Army, the Council for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Board of Trustees for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Laura Bush was born in Midland, Texas, to Harold and Jenna Welch. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Southern Methodist University and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Texas. She taught in public schools in Dallas, Houston and Austin and worked as a public school librarian. She served as First Lady of Texas from 1995 to 2000. President and Mrs. Bush are the parents of twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, son-in-law, Henry Hager, and proud grandparents of Margaret Laura “Mila” and Poppy Louise Hager. The Bush family also includes two cats, Bob and Bernadette, as well as Freddy the dog.

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