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Yellowstone's World Heritage Report


    Well. That was quick. And easy.
    The bottom line of a curious, and somewhat ironic, story is that the annual report chronicling how Yellowstone National Park officials are dealing with threats to the park's natural and cultural resources will indeed carry a sentence specifying the National Park Service's commitment to conserving the park's resources "unimpaired for future generations."
    You might say that the old journalistic adage that "no civic good is done without a little controversy" played a role.

    Of course, I also must admit to wrongly accusing political appointees in the National Park Service of actively editing the document to the U.N. World Heritage Committee to remove that language.
    When Greenwire's Dan Berman on Thursday broke the story of how the report was missing that "unimpaired" language, it was late in the day. In Yellowstone, Al Nash, the park's newly arrived communications chief, was unfamiliar with the issue and hadn't seen the report Berman was referring to. So I went with what I had.
    Now, before I get to the irony, here's some background:  Back in 1995 the World Heritage Committee placed Yellowstone on its list of "World Heritage Sites in Danger" in response to various threats, including the New World Mine that was proposed to be built just outside the park's northeast entrance.
    Other mentioned threats involved the park's bison, some of which were being destroyed when they wandered outside of the park because they might be infected with brucellosis, a disease that can cause cattle to spontaneously abort their fetuses; water quality problems related to Yellowstone's antiquated wastewater treatment system; an inadequate road system, and; increasing visitation that generated concerns over the future of the park's natural and cultural resources.
    In 2003 Park Service officials, after heavily editing a report from Yellowstone's scientists who had a number of ongoing concerns about the above-mentioned threats, convinced the World Heritage Committee to remove Yellowstone from the danger list. In return, the Park Service agreed to make annual reports to the committee on progress being made in the areas of concern.
    And that's how we got to the news that the Park Service no longer seemed concerned about protecting Yellowstone "unimpaired for future generations." In the agency's proposed 2006 report to the World Heritage Committee, that language has been stricken from its normal place in a section titled "Visitor Use Impacts" that is deep down within the report.
    Now here's the irony:
    In Washington, NPS communications chief David Barna tells me that officials in Yellowstone routinely prepare the report to the World Heritage Committee. They call up the previous year's report on their computers, update it, and ship it off to Washington where Interior Department officials go over it before having it published in the Federal Register.
    The "unimpaired" language  was not in the 2003 or 2004 reports received from Yellowstone. However, once they arrived in Washington -- and here's the irony -- Assistant Deputy Interior Secretary Paul Hoffman inserted the "unimpaired" language.
    Yep. Paul Hoffman, the Interior official who has been pilloried on my pages and elsewhere in the media for proposing sweeping revisions to the Park Service's Management Policies, including changes affecting impairment language in that document.
    "It turns out that Paul Hoffman, of all people, put the (language) in the 2005 version," Barna told me. "Paul Hoffman added it last year. We'll get it back in the report. Not a problem. The park of course has been going nuts saying, 'We didn't take it out, matter of fact, we never put it in. The file we sent to D.C. never had it in there.'"
    Now, I still have some concerns about the contents of that report, and I'll get back to them after I can get some questions answered.

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