National Park Service to Allow Commercial "Bioprospecting" in Parks

Public Interest Groups Cry Foul



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EI: Beth Burrows, 425-775-5383,
Mike Bader, 406-721-4835,
PEER: Jeff Ruch, 202-265-7337, extension 22,
AWR: Michael Garrity, 406-459-5936,

For more information on bioprospecting in national parks, and to comment on the plan visit:
www.parksnotfor">Send in your comment here
edmonds institute

September 22, 2006, the National Parks Service (NPS) finally acquiesced
to a seven-year-old court order to publish an environment assessment of
its controversial plans to allow commercial bioprospecting in the U.S.
National Parks. The NPS document can be found at

In the name of "Benefits-Sharing", for the sake of a portion of future
potential profits, the Park Service is setting forth the details that
will allow private corporations to extract and make money from
organisms taken from the national parks, including millions of acres of
wilderness areas.

The document NPS put out for comment, technically called a Draft
Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drew criticism from public
interest advocates who oppose the "commercialization of the commons",
including those who won the legal case in 1999 that forced NPS to do
the DEIS in the first place.

"This is, sadly, another step along the path of turning our national
treasures into corporate booty" said Beth Burrows, Director of the
Edmonds Institute (EI), one of the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit
over this matter. "We support scientific research in the parks, " she
noted. " But we are against commercializing the parks and their
wildlife. The purpose of the Parks is not Business."

"Legally the National Park System is not set up to be a commercial
resource base, but the Administration seems dead set in favor of
opening up the parks to commercial extraction" stated Joseph Mendelson,
legal director of the International Center for Technology Assessment
(ICTA), another of the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit over
bioprospecting in the Parks.

"There are commercial activities in the Parks," explained Mike Bader,
former Park employee acting as a consultant for EI. "There are hotels
and guides and gas stations but all those are in direct support of
visitor services, a primary purpose of the Parks."

"The public needs to remember that Yellowstone and the other national
parks were designated as parks to protect them from exploitation" said
Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild
Rockies. "We don't want to turn back the clock by exploiting them now".

Frank Buono, former NPS employee now on the board of Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), warns, "The NPS must be very
careful that private commerce does not distort the preservation
mission, or the ethics of its public servants. Gaining some funds from
possibly secret deals is not worth either."

The controversy over bioprospecting in the parks first came to light in
1997 as Yellowstone National Park was making plans to commemorate its
125th anniversary. By the time the Park Service announced that it had
made an agreement with Diversa Corporation to give Diversa a
non-exclusive right to bioprospect' microorganisms in Yellowstone in
exchange for a share in potential future earnings, public interest
groups were already objecting.

By 1998, a lawsuit was filed by the Edmonds Institute, the Alliance for
Wild Rockies, and the International Center for Technology Assessment.
The groups opposed commercial bioprospecting and pointing to
existing national law (National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA)
called for an environmental assessment of the deal's consequences. In
1999, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District
of Columbia, ruled in favor of the public interest groups on the NEPA
claim, suspended the agreement between the Park Service and Diversa,
and ordered an environmental assessment in keeping with the
requirements of NEPA. Now, seven years later, the Park Service has
published the court-ordered environmental assessment, and opened a
less-than-90-day public comment period.

"It should cause more than a little concern to the public that the Park
Service has taken 7 years to concoct this assessment and the public
gets less than 90 days to digest, study and comment on its 340 pages"
remarked Burrows.

The Park Service's DEIS outlines three possible plans of action:
Alternative A which calls for no action, thus allowing continued
bioprospecting without so-called benefit-sharing agreements;
Alternative B which allows commercial bioprospecting but requires
benefits-sharing agreements and some degree of public disclosure (but
does not guarantee complete transparency); and Alternative C which
prohibits commercial bioprospecting, only allowing noncommercial or
public interest research and development of nation park resources. NPS
advocates for a variant of Alternative B.

According to Burrows, "Because this DEIS has such important
implications for how we think about nature, the national parks, and our
own duties of stewardship to the lands and critters of this planet,"
several of us are launching a national initiative to educate the public
about the Park Service's actions, to encourage people to rally against
commercial bioprospecting in national parks, and to send in comments
to NPS. "Of course, we hope the public will support Alternative C," she
said, "but more importanty, the public should comment. These special
places and special critters are part of their heritage and they should
not leave the decision-making to others.".

The Park Service will be accepting comments on its DEIS on
bioprospecting until December 15, 2006.

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For more information on bioprospecting in national parks, and to comment on the plan visit:
www.parksnotfor">Send in your comment here
edmonds institute

Other contacts on these issues:
Frank Buono (PEER): 520-803-0870
Joe Mendelson (ICTA): 202-547-9359