Bioprospecting pitched for parks

Scientists could be descending on Mesa Verde National Park and the Weminuche Wilderness Area in a search for new cures or chemical applications. The National Park Service is currently considering allowing “bioprospecting” in parks and wilderness areas. Many public interest groups are outraged by this commercialization of public lands.

In short, bioprospecting is the search for a useful product, process or application that exists in nature. In particular, scientist target microorganisms, plants and fungi in the quest for new medicines, catalysts for chemical reactions and natural organisms that can aid in new products.

The National Park Service recently unveiled its plans to allow commercial bioprospecting in the national parks and on millions of acres of designated wilderness. Under the plan, private corporations would be permitted to extract and profit from organisms taken from public lands. The park service released a draft environmental impact statement on Sept. 22 and describes the arrangement as “benefits-sharing.” Numerous conservation and public interest groups do not see bioprospecting in the same light.

“This is, sadly, another step along the path of turning our national treasures into corporate booty,” said Beth Burrows, director of the Edmonds Institute, a public-interest, environmental think tank based in Washnton state. “We support scientific research in the parks, but we are against commercializing the parks and their wildlife.”

Bioprospecting differs from existing commercial services inside parks, according to Mike Bader, a former national park employee. “There are commercial activities in the parks,” he said. “There are hotels and guides and gas stations, but all those are in direct support of visitor services, a primary purpose of the parks.”

The controversy over bioprospecting in parks first came to light in 1997, when the Park Service signed an agreement with Diversa Corp. to bioprospect microorganisms in Yellowstone National Park. In exchange, the Park Service would have gotten a share in potential future earnings. In 1998, a lawsuit was filed by the Edmonds Institute, the Alliance for Wild Rockies, and the International Center for Technology Assessment.

“The public needs to remember that Yellowstone and the other national parks were designated as parks to protect them from exploitation,” added Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “We don’t want to turn back the clock by exploiting them now.”

The public still has an opportunity to weigh in on bioprospecting in national parks and wilderness areas. The Park Service will be accepting comments on its draft environmental impact statement until Dec. 15. More information can be found at


Lynx reintroduction awarded $250k

Efforts to reestablish lynx in the San Juan Mountains got a big boost recently. The Colorado Wildlife Commission received $250,000 from the Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation this month. The donation will be used to fund the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s (DOW) ongoing lynx reintroduction effort taking place in the state.

“This generous donation will go a long way to ensuring the ongoing success of one of the most popular and important programs the Colorado Division of Wildlife has implemented,” said Bruce McCloskey, director of the DOW. “This demonstrates the foundation’s continued commitment to the lynx program in a very real and significant way. I am very pleased with the monetary assistance in helping the DOW accomplish our objectives.”

The DOW’s Lynx Reintroduction Program began in 1999. Since that time, 218 lynx have been reintroduced into Colorado from Alaska and Canada. Prior to the reintroduction program, lynx were thought to be extinct in Colorado. To date, the DOW has been able to document reproduction and recruitment of Colorado-born lynx into the Colorado breeding population. The donation will further those efforts.

“First, we will be able to expand our efforts to monitor adult female lynx to determine their survival rates and reproductive success,” said Jeff Ver Steeg, assistant director of wildlife programs for the DOW. “Monitoring lynx reproduction is necessary to determine whether or not lynx are going to permanently establish a self-sustaining population in Colorado. Second, we intend to use these funds to support an intense analytical effort to help us better understand why lynx are using certain areas of the state and why they have yet to become established in others.”


Local school enrollment rebounds

Local student numbers have returned to the levels prior to the Missionary Ridge Fire. Durango School District 9-R’s enrollment grew by more than 127 students this fall, a sign administrators welcome and say points to a flourishing local economy.

The official census submitted to the Colorado Department of Education recently indicated that the district’s total population grew from 4,820 students in 2005 to 4,947 this year.

“This is the second year in a row that we’ve seen an enrollment increase, and it’s an indicator that our economy is finally recovering from the fall terrorist attacks and summer fires from 2001-02. Families with school-aged children are moving back into the district,” said Director of Business Services Diane Doney.

The district’s three-year enrollment decline started with the loss of more than 100 students enrolled at Community of Learners, a district charter school that closed in 2001 because of financial difficulties. As a result of Sept. 11 and the 2002 fires, the district lost more students as families left the area to find better-paying jobs and a lower cost of living, said Doney.

“We hope this year’s enrollment growth is a sign that our economy is getting stronger,” she said. The enrollment growth is good news for the district, because it means the district will receive increased revenues over original budget projections.


River Trail art finalists announced

Three artists have been selected as finalists for the Animas River Trail Public Art Project, but only one of them will be selected to create a mural on the cement wall adjacent to the trail, just south of the Main Avenue underpass.

Twenty-seven artists from around the country responded to a call to artists that went out in September. An 11-member selection panel, composed of members of the Public Art Commission, community volunteers and city representatives, reviewed the submissions. The three finalists were selected based on a review of qualifications and proposals. The finalists are:

-  The Arts Collaborative of Durango: Keith Walzak, Mary Anne Griffin, Kelly Hurford, Sandy Bielenberg and Chris Loftus

- Arteclettica: Dominic Panziera and Daniela Garofalo, of Truckee, Calif.

- Jean and Tom Latka of Pueblo.

On Jan. 18, the finalists will present their proposals to the public at an evening open house event. The following day, the panel will make its final selection in a public meeting. The budget for design, execution, transportation and installation is $25,000.

– compiled by Will Sands


In this week's issue...

July 21, 2022
Wildlife success or deal with the devil?

Land swap approved in Southwest Colorado, but not without detractors

July 21, 2022
Tapping out

The latest strategy to save the San Luis Valley's shrinking aquifer: paying farmers not to farm

July 14, 2022
Hey, good environmental news

Despite SCOTUS ruling, San Juan Generating Station plans to shut down