National Park Service releases Final EIS on Benefits-Sharing
by National Park Service
November 24, 2009
The National Park Service (NPS) is proposing to implement benefits-sharing agreements with scientists who conduct research in National Park System units. Such agreements could return benefits to the park and the public if the research results lead to the development of commercially valuable materials. The proposed changes are outlined in a Benefits Sharing Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which has just been completed and released to the public.
The preferred alternative in the Final EIS does not change the existing strict research permit process. Regulations would continue to prohibit issuing permits for activities that would adversely affect, impact, or damage public health and safety, visitor use activities, proper use of NPS facilities, scientific research, environmental or scenic values, or a park’s natural or cultural resources. They would continue to prohibit the commercial use or sale of park specimens and prohibit damage to or consumptive use of park resources.
Under the preferred alternative, a benefits-sharing agreement may be negotiated with researchers who wish to commercialize their research results. The permit process would remain separate from any benefits-sharing negotiations. Prior to the development of any agreements, a prospective permittee must meet all the regulatory requirements for obtaining a research permit; the park unit must comply with all resource protection requirements; and a permit must be issued. Typically, negotiations would not occur until after research has already been conducted.
The proposed changes are not about commercializing the parks, but are about the public receiving some benefit from commercial projects that result from analysis of samples collected in national parks.
The best known example of a viable commercial product arising from research results related to the study of biological material originating in national parks was the invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) process. The PCR process, which facilitates the widespread use of DNA analyses, often uses an enzyme isolated from the Thermus aquaticus bacteria collected in Yellowstone National Park.
The NPS has identified four types of non-monetary benefits that could occur under some or all benefits-sharing agreements: knowledge and research relationships, training and education, research-related equipment, and special services such as laboratory analysis. All benefits received under any type of benefits-sharing agreement would be dedicated to the conservation of resources protected and managed by the National Park Service.
Currently, an average of more than 200 national parks annually host independent research efforts, authorized under permits generated under current policies and procedures. Only a small portion of NPS research permittees are expected to be affected by benefits-sharing.
The analysis and recommendations contained in the Final EIS will be reviewed by the Director of the National Park Service. The Director will make the final decision and can choose the preferred alternative or any combination of management approaches addressed in the Final EIS. The Director is expected to issue the Record of Decision (ROD) in early 2010.
The Final EIS is available online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov by selecting the "Washington Office". It is also available on CD or in hard copy by writing the Benefits Sharing FEIS Team, Yellowstone Center for Resources, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 82190.