Five environmental groups are voicing concern about a soon-to-be-implemented National Park Service policy that would enable parks to share profits from research within their boundaries.
The plan would be impractical and expensive, the groups said Wednesday, while compromising resource protection and ethical principles. They called on Park Service Director Jon Jarvis to abandon the idea.
"The Park Service has chosen the most costly, cumbersome and unworkable way to approach this subject possible," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The Edmonds Institute, Alliance for Wild Rockies, Wilderness Watch and International Center for Technology Assessment joined PEER in criticizing the planned "benefits sharing" rules in a letter to Jarvis on Wednesday.
The National Park Service defended the policy, which is expected to go into effect early next year and apply to the more than 200 national parks hosting independent research. The policy resulted from a lawsuit over a first-of-its-kind agreement between Yellowstone National Park and a San Diego company in 1997.
At issue is bioprospecting, or searching for organisms with uses in chemistry and medicine.
An example is a bacteria species discovered in a Yellowstone National Park hot spring that made DNA testing more practical starting in the 1980s. The genetic testing industry now is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
The new rules will pay back to individual parks a pre-negotiated share of profits from research that originates in those parks, said Ruch.
"It puts park superintendents in the ethically difficult position between raising money for their own budgets and protecting park resources," he said.
Meanwhile, Ruch said, parks will negotiate individually with researchers on a case-by-case basis. He said that will be impractical compared to a blanket policy that would apply to all research in all parks.
"We're suggesting that they not use this kind of Rube Goldberg contraption," Ruch said.
The approach will be expensive, he said, costing more than the Park Service will collect by sharing profits.
Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash disputed the criticism, saying the policy won't change the parks' strict rules for research. Researchers will continue to be allowed to collect no more than "a couple of test tubes" of living material.
"We do not allow consumptive use of park resources. This doesn't change that," he said.
The policy isn't expected to be expensive, Nash said. Paperwork for research permits will require no more time than they do now except when profits could result _ in which case the parks stand to share in those profits, he said.
"The change that we foresee is that the public might get some benefit if a commercial product were to arise based on commercial research in the parks," he said.
Ruch said the profit-sharing agreements would be secretive under the policy. Nash said the agreements would be publicly available according to the Freedom of Information Act.
Returns to the parks as a result of the policy could eventually total between $635,000 and $3.9 million a year, according to a Park Service document outlining the policy.