Coalition Letter to Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton

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

Coalition Letter to Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton

- May 22, 2001

The Honorable Gale Norton
Secretary of Interior
1849 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Norton,

We welcome you to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Please enjoy our spectacular vistas, pristine rivers, and unparalleled wildlife herds. We are immensely proud of our history of conservation in this region, but are deeply concerned by the mounting threats to our national parks and other public lands in Greater Yellowstone. The protection of our national parks and public lands within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is vitally important to our way of life and our economic future.

We request that you use your visit to this remarkable area, not as a photo opportunity or a restatement of the inadequate budget for national parks previously announced, but to demonstrate a commitment by the Bush Administration to truly protect our parks and remarkable contiguous wildlands in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Your announcement of the following specific, substantive decisions would demonstrate such a commitment:

· Immediately halt settlement negotiations with the snowmobile industry in its lawsuit challenging the phase out of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, and implement the phase out of snowmobiles.
· Announce a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in the Upper Green River Basin pending completion of a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement that examines the cumulative impact of oil and gas development in the basin, which is south and east of Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. Development of gas fields threaten historic wildlife migration routes linking Grand Teton and Yellowstone to other public lands.
· Implement a system for funding for our national parks that gives priority to protecting resources above road construction and building maintenance.

We request an opportunity to meet with you regarding these important issues during your pending visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks, and will follow up with your office.

Despite an April 22 Earth Day announcement that the Department of Interior will allow the snowmobile decision in Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks to stand, your lawyers are engaged in settlement talks with the snowmobile industry that would overturn the existing decision.

The Park Service decision to phase snowmobiles out of Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks is a good decision that achieves balance between the diverse and growing number of winter visitors in these parks and protecting the parks' wildlife, air quality and other resources. We encourage you to announce this week that the current decision will stand, and that your department will defend the decision in court.

Madam Secretary, many of the resources in these national parks are dependent upon the surrounding lands outside the parks, and the cumulative impacts of oil and gas development have not been fully examined. The Upper Green River basin is one place that already has experienced significant oil and gas development. Unfortunately, the cumulative impacts of the oil and gas development have not been examined, and the development jeopardizes wildlife, water quality and other values of Greater Yellowstone.

For example, on your visit to Grand Teton, you may see a herd of pronghorn antelope that summer in the protected areas of the national park. Each fall, these antelope migrate south through the Upper Green River Basin and along the Wind River Range to the Red Desert and south seeking winter range. Thousands of other wildlife join the antelope on this path, the longest migration route in the lower 48 states.

Development of the gas fields in the Upper Green River Basin is industrializing the area. If current development trends continue the area will be pockmarked with drilling pads, crisscrossed with roads and transmission lines, severing the wildlife migration corridors. To ensure wildlife habitat is sustained, we ask for your leadership. Please place a moratorium on any new leasing until the Bureau of Land Management determines how much development would be too much. Since approved development could continue, we request a temporary delay to determine the needs of these incredible wildlife herds before any additional rights are granted. Certain areas, like the Bridger-Teton National Forest, should not be leased at all.

We are concerned with the scope of the President's energy plan, and the effect it could have on wildlands across the West. The Upper Green River basin is representative of a large number of wildlands that merit protection from oil and gas development.

Finally, your administration has embarked on a park funding agenda that unfortunately places a higher priority on roads and buildings, while continuing to neglect the very cause of the backlog - annual operating shortfalls. Furthermore, the majority of the President's budget is allocated to bricks and mortar and not for the natural resources that the parks were established to protect. Parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton will suffer as a result.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are the sixth and seventh most visited parks in the nation respectively, with more than three million people visiting Yellowstone each year. Despite this fact, chronic underfunding of these parks have made it difficult to fulfill their mission of protecting park resources while providing enjoyment of park visitors today and tomorrow.

Increased funding for natural resource programs such as ones to protect grizzly bears in Yellowstone and combat invasive species in Grand Teton are seriously needed. We strongly urge you to both increase the operational funding of our national parks and in doing so, give priority to protecting our park natural, cultural and historical resources.

Secretary Norton, for generations the people of this region have been working to protect the wildlife and wild country here. We are very concerned with the accelerating pace of development on the public lands in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and ask that you take the conservative and cautious approach necessary to protect the incredible values here.

It is our sincere hope the impressions left from your visit to the region will inspire you to re-think the policies and directions you are embarking on that, if left unchanged, will create lasting damage on this great national landscape.


Franz Camenzind, Phd. Dan Heilig
Executive Director Executive Director
Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Wyoming Outdoor Council

Michael Scott Tony Jewett
Executive Director Northern Rockies Regional Director
Greater Yellowstone Coalition National Parks Conservation Assoc.

Bob Ekey
Northern Rockies Regional Director
The Wilderness Society


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