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GE - Judge Rules Against Yellowstone Biopiracy

> ALERT: Landmark Decision in the Yellowstone Case
>Contact: Beth Burrows (Edmonds Institute) 425-775-5383
>             Joseph Mendelson (Center for Technology Assessment) 202-547-9359
>             Mike Bader (Alliance for Wild Rockies) 406-721-5420
>Washington, D.C. Wednesday, March 24, 1999. One year after the Edmonds
>Institute (EI), the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA),
>and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies(AWR) filed suit to stop the
>Department of the Interior and the National Park Service from making
>behind- closed-door deals for the harvesting and commercialization of
>natural resources in Yellowstone National Park, Judge Royce Lamberth, of
>U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said the public interest
>groups were right.
>In a ruling published today, Judge Lamberth suspended implementation of a
>bioprospecting deal between Yellowstone and Diversa Corporation that had
>been announced by the National Park Service in August, 1997.  Lamberth
>called on the Department of the Interior to prepare an environmental
>assessment in accordance with the requirements of the National
>Environmental Policy Act. He also ruled that the plaintiffs could seek a
>further judgement on whether the Department of the Interior ever had legal
>authority to enter into cooperative research and development deals (CRADAs)
>such as the one attempted with Diversa.
>"When Smokey Bear comes out of hibernation this spring," said Beth Burrows,
>director of the Edmonds Institute, "he'll be smiling. The park didn't get
>sold down the river while he was sleeping. The National Environmental
>Policy Act, the public interest, and our whole system of stewardship did
>not get subverted by backroom deals."
>"This decision mandates that the American people, the owners of the parks,
>have to be consulted. Any commercial exploitation has to go through a
>public review. The decision effectively prevents the exploitation of our
>national parks solely for commercial gain," explained Joseph Mendelson,
>legal director of the Center of Technology Assessment and lead attorney on
>the Yellowstone case. "It guarantees that the primary purpose of having a
>national park system is to preserve the country's scenic beauty and natural
>resources for all of us to enjoy."
>Mike Bader, former Yellowstone ranger and executive directive of the
>Alliance for the Wild Rockies, added, "This legal decision makes clear that
>the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior embarked on a
>dramatic shift in management policy that could have affected the integrity
>of Yellowstone and the park system for years to come. They did a deal
>without the knowledge and consent of the American people and without any
>review of the environmental and aesthetic impacts. We are very pleased that
>the court found their actions to be illegal and stopped them."
>The suit against the Department of the Interior (DOI) was filed March 5,
>1998. It alleged DOI violation of the Technology Transfer Act of 1986, the
>National Park Service Organic Act, the Yellowstone National Park Organic
>Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and Public Trust Doctrine. The
>legal action come on the heels of announcement in August, 1997, at the
>125th anniversary celebration of Yellowstone, of a breakthrough deal
>allowing Diversa, a private company, to remove Yellowstone National Park
>resources and use them to develop patentable products. In return for
>granting such access, Yellowstone was to receive a small fee, a percentage
>of royalties from any products that might ensue, and assistance in
>scientifically cataloguing the resources of interest. The company stood to
>make millions. How much the park stood to gain is still a matter of secrecy
>and contention. (EI and CTA are still pursuing a Freedom of Information Act
>suit to shake loose the financial details of the Diversa deal.)
>The subjects of all the deal-making at Yellowstone are a kind of living
>gold -- microorganisms, tiny forms of life that exists only in the kinds of
>environments found at Yellowstone -- highly acidic and extremely hot
>thermal pools and geysers, for example.  The heat-loving microorganisms
>and the enzymes they produce can be extremely useful in industrial
>processes ranging from paper and beermaking to meat  tenderizing and
>pharmaceutical creation. Thermus aquaticus, one such useful microorganism,
>was taken from Yellowstone a few years back and one of its enzymes
>currently earns 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
>microorganisms or its enzyme.
>The Diversa agreement, seen by the National Park Service (NPS) as a
>potential cure for the Thermus aquaticus dilemma and a model for many
>more deals to come, was about much more, however, than making money
>from microorganisms.The NPS came to a deal with Diversa through a
>Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA),
>an arrangement used to avoid the stringent requirements for public
>notification and involvement called for under the
>National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).  Getting wind of the deal
>before it was announced at Yellowstone's 125th birthday celebration last
>August, EI and CTA cried foul and filed  a legal petition with the
>Department of Interior, asking  the agency to drop the deal, open the
>decision-making process to public scrutiny and participation, and do the
>environmental impact assessments required under NEPA.  January 21, National
>Park Service Director Robert Stanton denied the petition to drop the
>Diversa deal.
>A lawsuit followed in the wake of extensive legal efforts by EI to
>obtain the details of the Diversa deal through Freedom of Information Act
>requests.  Wednesday's ruling by Judge Lamberth underlined the importance
>of the case:
>"The Yellowstone-Diversa CRADA marks the first time in the history that an
>American national park would stand to gain financially from scientific
>discoveries made within its borders. To understand the significance of this
>shift in policy, it is necessary to briefly examine the emerging field of
>"bioprospecting" and how it relates to the Yellowstone National Park." . . .
>"Bioprospecting presents a totally, new, related (whether the fundamental
>nature is different than traditional consumptive or indistinguishable is a
>matter of much debate) use that targets microscopic resources - the genetic
>and biochemical information found in wild plants, animals and
>microorganisms." . . .
>"The precise number of bioprospecting CRADAs being considered
>department-wide by defendants is unknown, but a number of parks other than
>Yellowstone hold great potential for bioprospecting. Judging by the DOI
>Solicitor's September 1998 memorandum, other federal lands may be under
>consideration for bioprospecting CRADAs. Nevertheless, as far as the court
>is aware, the defendants have not conducted a rulemaking procedure for this
>change in policy, nor have defendants solicited public comment informally.
>The defendants have declined requests from members of Congress seeking
>information about the financial aspects of the Yellowstone-Diversa CRADA.
>Essentially, the future of bioprospecting on federal lands in the United
>States appears to be a work in progress, but the government as of yet has
>not engaged in any public debate on the issue nor made any definitive
>policy statement through regulations or less formal means." . . .
>"[A]lthough each sample taken from Yellowstone may be the size of a test
>tube, the overall impact of the specimen collection authorized by the CRADA
>and its corresponding permit is not teaspoon-sized.  As described in the
>CRADA's Statement of Work, Diversa plans to study microbes present in a
>wide array of ecosystems and "systematically sample[]" the sites in order
>of their uniqueness and genetic diversity. This will entail a significant
>amount of collection throughout a large area of the Park and, by the
>CRADA's own terms, is expected to have a duration of at least five years.
>Taken together, the amount of teaspoon-sized samples can hardly be
>considered so inconsequential as not even constitute a cognizable injury to
>plaintiffs' legitimate aesthetic and recreational interests." . . .
>"The defendants themselves proclaim the ecological significance of
>Yellowstone's thermal features . . . [T]here can be no debate that the
>Yellowstone-Diversa CRADA is a precedent-setting agreement within the
>National Park System and the DOI in general. The first agreement of its
>kind, the CRADA was announced in the presence of the Vice President, the
>Secretary of the Interior, the Director of the Park Service and the
>Superintendent of Yellowstone. As a many as eighteen other entities have
>already discussed similar agreement with the defendants."
>Upon hearing of Judge Lamberth's decision, Phil Knight, Yellowstone guide
>and outfitter and co-plaintiff in the landmark case, noted, "Yellowstone's
>unique features are not some open treasure chest for corporations to
>exploit. With this decision, Yellowstone's integrity will be protected for
>generations to come."
>*The Edmonds Institute is a public interest, non-profit organization that
>does research and public education on issues related to environment,
>technology, and law.
>*The International Center for Technology Assessment is a Washington,
>D.C.-based non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the
>environmental, economic, and ethical issues surrounding biotechnology.
>*The Alliance for the Wild Rockies is a conservation alliance working to
>protect wilderness and fish and wildlife on public lands in the Northern
>*Phil Knight  is a guide, activist, and outfitter who has lived in the
>Yellowstone area for 14 years, and the Yellowstone area representative for
>the Native Forest Network.
>The Edmonds Institute
>20319-92nd Avenue West, Edmonds, Washington 98020
>Alliance for the Wild Rockies
>Box 8731, Missoula, Montana 59807
>International Center for Technology Assessment
>310 D Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20002
>Phil Knight
>Native Forest Network/Yellowstone region
>P.O. Box 6151
>Bozeman, Montana 59771-1651