From: Chris Baltimore
Published October 20, 2007 06:37 PM

Bush Poses With Bird, Touts "conservation"

ST MICHAELS, Maryland (Reuters) - President George W. Bush took a nature outing on Saturday to tout new federal initiatives aimed at protecting migrating birds and two fish species prized by anglers.

Bush took a break from bruising battles with Democrats in Congress over his agenda on children's health care, domestic spying, the budget and the war in Iraq to walk around a wildlife preserve in the scenic Maryland countryside.

He later headed to Chesapeake Bay to sign an executive order to protect striped bass and red drum fish -- two once-abundant species that have faced over-fishing.

"I'm looking forward to going out and try to catch some. I love to fish," the casually dressed Bush told a small audience at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum before heading out in a small boat.

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Earlier at the Patuxent Research Refuge, Bush unveiled a federal plan to encourage private landowners to set aside "stopover habitats" for more than 800 species of migratory birds.

"Birds are losing the stopover habitats they need and depend on for their annual migrations," Bush said, flanked by his wife Laura and federal officials.

Bush donned a leather glove to handle a screech owl.

"Pretty awesome-looking stare there," he said of the bird's luminous eyes.

The order to protect the two fish species directs the Commerce and Interior departments to work with state and local officials to prohibit sale of the fish caught up to 200 nautical miles out in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

Aging populations of the fish, which are important to breeding, are vulnerable to commercial fishing nets because they spawn far offshore.

Bush, who has taken fellow leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin on fishing trips, seemed to revel in talking about the sport.

"It's a good fish to catch," Bush said of the striped bass, reeling off facts about it. "There's nothing like catching a big striper."

Bush and his wife planned to have lunch at Vice President Dick Cheney's house in the idyllic coastal town of St Michaels.

Striped bass and red drum are the "poster-child for overfishing right now," said Ted Venker, spokesman for the Coastal Conservation Association, which welcomed Bush's plan.

"It's very easy to go out and whack at these fish with a big gill net," Venker said. "Once you wipe out the brood stock it gets harder and harder to rebuild the species."

Bird enthusiasts also welcomed Bush's plan.

"The decline of so many bird species is an indicator of the many environmental challenges society now faces," said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy. "But, as the recovery of the American Bald Eagle has proven, we can reverse population declines with concerted effort."

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