Conservation Groups Welcome Norton, Cheney Visit to Yellowstone, Grand Teton

Date:   May 23, 2001
Contact:   Andrea Keller, NPCA, 202-454-3332

Conservation Groups Welcome Norton, Cheney Visit to Yellowstone, Grand Teton

JACKSON HOLE, WY - In a letter sent yesterday to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, several national park watchdog organizations urged the Secretary to use her upcoming trip this weekend to Yellowstone and Grand Teton as an opportunity to address recent Bush Administration policy actions that threaten the national parks.

"Rather than engaging in…photo opportunities, we request that you use your visit to announce several substantive and important decisions that demonstrate a commitment by the Bush Administration to truly protect the national parks and remarkable contiguous wild lands," the groups said in the joint letter that also requested a meeting with Secretary Norton.

"The Bush Administration has significantly highlighted the need for park protection by pledging nearly $5 billion for national parks over the next five years," said National Parks Conservation Association Northern Rockies Regional Director Tony Jewett. "That funding is a major step in the right direction, but the Administration's overall priorities are not want they should be." For example, the Administration's park-funding agenda includes the long-delayed and much needed replacement of failing sewage treatment plants at Yellowstone National Park, which will protect Yellowstone Lake and the wildlife dependent on it. In general, however, the proposed budget fails to commit needed funds to resource protection and visitor experience. Instead, it places a higher priority on roads and buildings, neglecting the very cause of the backlog-the annual operating shortfalls that keep parks like Yellowstone from funding education programs and Grand Teton from combating invasive species. In addition, the Administration has indicated publicly that it may abandon the Yellowstone snowmobile ban, now under legal assault by the snowmobile industry, and reach a settlement with the industry that will allow continued intensive use of snowmobiles in the park to the detriment of the park's wildlife and fragile ecosystem.

The National Parks Conservation Association, Wilderness Society, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, and Wyoming Outdoor Council called on the Administration to:

- halt settlement negotiations with the snowmobile industry in its lawsuit challenging the phase-out of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks;
- announce a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in the Upper Green River Basin pending completion of an Environmental Impact Statement; and
- implement a system for funding for the national parks that prioritizes resource protection above road construction and building maintenance.

Recent actions by the Bush Administration threaten national parklands. The Administration wants to overturn rules protecting wilderness, ease air quality and other environmental regulations, and open national monuments and other fragile public lands to oil and gas drilling¾all measures that would damage park ecosystems and the opportunity of visitors to enjoy park beauty.

"The Bush Administration's shoot first, ask questions later approach to energy development and the environment puts our last wild places in jeopardy," said Bob Ekey, Northern Rockies regional director for the Wilderness Society.

"Eighty-nine percent of Wyoming is already open to development, with over 60,000 oil and gas wells projected within the next decade," added Dan Heilig, director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. "We already are America's energy colony. Do we have to become America's energy sacrifice zone as well?"

"We hope as they visit two of America's most treasured national parks, Secretary Norton and Vice President Cheney will reconsider policies that put the interests of industry before those of the American public," said Jon Catton of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

For additional information about Secretary Norton's Visit, contact the Department of the Interior Press Office at 202-208-6416.

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