YELLOWSTONE 125th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION TAINTED
LEGAL ACTION FILED AGAINST NATIONAL PARK SERVICE TO PREVENT
COMMERCIALIZATION OF YELLOWSTONE RESOURCES
EDMONDS INSTITUTE AND INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENT DEMAND HALT TO NATIONAL PARK GIVEAWAYS
Washington, D.C., August 15, 1997, the Edmonds Institute and the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) filed a formal legal petition with the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior. The legal action called for an immediate halt to Park Service plans to commercialize Yellowstone's valuable biological resources. Today's petition calls Park Service actions arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of agency discretion, and a violation of national law.
Joseph Mendelson, legal director of ICTA stated, "125 years ago we protected Yellowstone National Park from the onslaught of the robber barons. Today's petition informs the Park Service that we are ready to go to court to prevent modern commercial exploitation of park resources. "
The Edmonds Institute/ICTA petition is being filed two days before Vice President Al Gore and others are due to celebrate Yellowstone National Park's 125th anniversary in a park ceremony entitled "Protectors of Yellowstone".
Home to more geysers and hotsprings than the rest of world combined, Yellowstone's 3,742 square miles of lakes, rivers, streams, meadows, mountains and grizzly bears hold a special place in the public consciousness.
Today's legal action seeks to address the problems arising from allowing preferential private access to Yellowstone's extraordinary microbiological resources. The resources currently being extracted from the park are a kind of living gold. Unique microorganisms -- tiny forms of life that exist only in Yellowstone's highly acidic and extremely hot thermal pools and geysers -- and the enzymes they produce can be extremely useful. Uses range from paper and beer making to meat tenderizing and the manufacture of pharmaceuticals .
Thermus aquaticus, one such useful microorganism, was taken from Yellowstone a few years ago. One of its enzymes made possible DNA fingerprinting. That enzyme earned for its "owners", Hoffman-LaRoche, the Swiss drug giant that holds its patent, more than $100 million a year, with earnings projected to increase to $1 billion a year by 2005. No money came to the national parks or the national treasury from the Yellowstone-derived microorganism or its enzyme.
Today there are many corporate prospectors and their agents in Yellowstone and the National Park Service is looking for ways to devise licensing agreements with them.
The Edmonds Institute and ICTA object to this commercialization and privatization of park life. The groups are concerned that the Park Service is negotiating contracts and agreements for access to materials in the national parks without public involvement. Up to this point, the Park Service has made no apparent provision for public participation or comment on contracts and agreements under consideration. Further, the groups note that if the Park Service had a reasonable agreement over use of Thermus aquaticus, it might have been able to use the royalties to fund the operations of the Park Service itself. "It is mandatory that there be public oversight to ensure a fair and equitable return for the nation from the use of national resources," said Beth Burrows, director of the Edmonds Institute.
Burrows contends, "Closed-door commercialization of life in Yellowstone is theft of our national heritage." She explains, "It's a distortion of the original intention. We didn't preserve Yellowstone for corporate purposes."
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