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Conservation groups want President Bush to reverse the record of his predecessor and revive a program to protect land around national preserves.

"You can defer buying a car, but a desirable piece of land is likely to turn into a shopping mall or become too expensive. Special areas bought today will pay enormous dividends for future generations," says George T. Frampton, president of the Wilderness Society.A coalition led by the Wilderness Society urged the Bush administration Sunday to spend $781 million next year to buy land that might otherwise be lost to developers in and around national preserves in 46 states.

"You can't keep putting off these investments," Frampton said.

The money would come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, created by Congress in 1965 to protect natural resources.

Congress may appropriate $900 million a year from the fund, which gets 80 percent of its money from oil-drilling on the federally owned outer continental shelf. But purchases of land under the fund fell sharply under President Reagan, from $509 million in 1980 to $206 million this year.

Bush has recommended keeping investments at $206 million for the fiscal year beginning next October.

As an example of land lost to development because of delays, Frampton cited a 700-acre tract in Devil's Canyon in Colorado, which conservationists urged the government to buy for three years. The land has since been subdivided.

Most of the recommended tracts lie within national parks or forests and would not expand the boundaries of federal lands, the statement said.

The recommended purchases include land at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, Olympic National Park in Washington and Acadia National Park in Maine, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California and along the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine.

The only states in which purchases were not recommended were Delaware, Kansas, Connecticut and Iowa.

In addition to spending $781 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the coalition urged appropriation of $200 million in matching funds for recreation proj-ects by state and local governments.

Among the sites at which the report recommended purchases were:

-Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, $30 million for a total of 5,000 acres in Zuma, Trancas and Corral Canyons and elsewhere.

-Appalachian Trail, $23 million to buy land along the 2,100-mile corridor, which is administered by the National Forest Service.

-Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest, Wash., $10 million to buy 620 acres near Noisy Creek. Some of that land contains trees up to 10 feet in diameter.