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`WE'VE GOT TO SAVE THIS PARK,' CLINTON SAYS

After hiking the craggy rim of a pine-topped canyon, gawking at nesting osprey and a milky-white waterfall, President Clinton warned Friday of Republican attacks on national treasures. "We've got to save this park," he said.

Clinton, who is vacationing in nearby Jackson Hole, used a daylong visit of several Yellowstone sites to portray his administration as the champion of environmental protection.In a step hailed by conservationists, he announced a two-year moratorium on mining claims on 4,500 acres of federally owned land around Yellowstone. It was a dramatic reversal of Agriculture Department policy against a moratorium.

The move did not effect the proposed New World Mine, a controversial gold mining venture that environmentalists say would flood the park and surrounding areas with lethal wastes. But companies cannot stake new claims in the area for two years, which prevents New World Mine site expansion.

"It doesn't kill the project," said Bob Ekey of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "But it tightens the noose."

Tom Cassidy, American Rivers general counsel, said, "It's a nail in the coffin of this mine."

Clinton, who has expressed concern with the proposed mine, flew over the site in his Marine One helicopter several hours after delivering a broad environmental speech near Old Faithful.

Standing in a sudden downpour with plumes of steam puffing from the geyser behind him, the president said, "We should not do anything this year - anything - to weaken our ability to protect the quality of our land, our water, our food, the diversity of our wildlife and the sanctity of our natural treasures."

The administration is fighting to soften cuts in the national parks budget, defeat efforts to establish a park-closing commission and stem private acquisition of park land.

"We have a big stake in what you see around here at Yellowstone," Clinton said.

Congress has already softened proposed budget cuts, and no parks - especially Yellowstone - are in imminent danger of closing.

Still, the president - eager to capitalize on polls showing public anxiety about GOP environmental policies - pledged to help "preserve and not destroy our natural heritage."