Earlier this year, Mary told a reporter that the National Park Service had become "much more business savvy than we used to be."
But does that mean the agency should seek to wring every dollar it can from the national park system, that it should seek ways to make a profit off the resources?
I raise that question because today marked the end of the public comment period on the Park Service's intention to open the parks to bioprospecting, in which commercial enterprises would be allowed to sift through a park's natural resources -- Yellowstone's mudpots and hot springs, for instance, or Olympic's temperate rain forests -- to see if there are any beneficial organisms that might hold commercial promise.
Trust me, folks, this is definitely big business. Already a Florida State University assistant professor believes naturally occurring microbes can help clean up toxic waste sites. Think how profitable that process could one day be, if it works.
Realizing those potential profits, should the Park Service be jumping on the bandwagon?
As I mentioned back in November, I'm not sure exactly how the Park Service should approach this. But Mike Bader, who worked as a seasonal ranger at Yellowstone, has some pretty strong feelings.
Commercial bio-prospecting creates a dangerous precedent because it opens the door to parting out our parks, and unfortunately, the public and Congress can't readily judge the merits of these commercial deals. Key aspects can be withheld whenever the companies involved consider the information a proprietary trade secret," Bader writes in an opinion piece circulated via Writers on the Range, which is produced by High Country News.
Despite the Park Service's clever wording in its environmental impact statement on the issue, the letter and spirit of the laws creating Yellowstone and the National Park Service clearly indicate park resources and wildlife are not to be marketed for commercial profit. Moreover, commercial research is qualitatively different from research conducted in the public interest, with important differences in transparency and access, he adds.
So now, with the public comment period wrapping up, the waiting game begins. What will the Park Service do? Will Mary take the "business savvy" approach and chase the dollars? Or will she agree with opponents of bioprospecting that parks should not be parceled out to the highest bidder?