UN Takes Yellowstone Off List of Endangered Sites

PARIS, France, July 2, 2003 (ENS) - Yellowstone National Park was removed today from the United Nation's worldwide list of endangered sites. The committee responsible for the list acknowledged that a major threat to the park when it was listed in 1995 - a proposed gold mining operation - is no longer a danger.

The elimination of the threat from the mining project and "progress achieved in the handling of all the essential issues" prompted the removal of the park from the list, according to a statement from the UN's World Heritage Committee.

The committee has asked for annual reports and frequent updates on management of the park, in recognition that some of threats cited in its original listing remain.

In addition the adjacent mining operations, the committee identified other threats - such as the introduction of non-native lake trout, concern about management of wild bison, road construction and the pressure of year-round visitors.

The Bush administration, which had lobbied for the Yellowstone's removal from the list, hailed the decision.

"We could not be happier with the decision by the committee," said National Park Service Director Fran Mainella. "We know how much progress has been made at Yellowstone and we pledge to continue to assure that it is never again necessary to place it on the danger list." yellowstone

Some conservationists consider Yellowstone National Park one of the nation's most endangered parks in the nation due to heavy visitor traffic. (Photo courtesy NPCA)
Yellowstone was designated as a national park in 1872 - the world's first. It has the world's largest concentration of geysers and is known for its wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves and bison.

Administration officials say funding for Yellowstone has increased under President George W. Bush, park infrastructure has been improved and efforts are being made to conserve native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

"I am gratified that the committee recognized the major commitment we have made to one of our nation's greatest natural treasures and, in fact, highlighted our efforts as a model for other countries to follow," said Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton.

Conservationists caution that the park still faces a myriad of threats and say the Bush administration is trying to take credit for something it had little to do with.

It was the Congress and the Clinton administration that acted to stop the New World Mine project the committee was concerned about, explains Steve Bosak of the National Parks Conservation Association, and UNESCO did not single out Yellowstone as a model for others to follow.

"The Bush administration asked the committee to elevate Yellowstone to a model of how to restore a threatened site and they refused to do that," Bosak said. "The administration wants a feather in their cap, but it is questionable that they deserve credit."

Conservationists have been at odds with the Bush administration over its management of the national parks, in particular of Yellowstone. The Bush administration has overturned a ban on snowmobiling in Yellowstone, approved a new power plant in Montana that is likely to increase pollution in the park and has not addressed the management of the park's wild bison. snowybison

Conservationists worry that the government's management of the Yellowstone wild bison herd allows needless slaughter. (Photo by Steve Maslowski courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS))
Some 300 of Yellowstone's bison were slaughtered this winter because of a federal/state management plan that conservationists say is not based in science and ignores the historical and cultural value of the nation's last remaining herd of free roaming wild bison.

In making its decision, the committee wrestled with conflicting views of Yellowstone. The Bush administration sent a status report and a letter outlining why it believe the park should be removed and recognized as a model for dealing with environmental threats.

But a letter from former National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy said the report and the letter downplayed the threats to Yellowstone, including the decision to allow snowmobiling to continue.

Bosak believes the concern about continued threats is reflected in the committee's "unprecedented" decision to ask for annual reports and updates from the administration and from interested organizations.

The committee that issued today's decision is the governing body of the 176-nation World Heritage Convention, which is tasked to inventory, recognize, and protect irreplaceable properties of outstanding universal significance.

Everglades National Park is now the only U.S. site that remains on the World Heritage In Danger List, which aims to draw the attention of the international community to the need to reinforce protection of important cultural and natural sites.

At its meeting this week, the committee also decided to withdraw Bulgaria's Srebarna Nature Reserve and the Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor within Serbia and Montenegro from the endangered list.