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Benefits Sharing in the National Parks

Thermal algae, Monument Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP. Photo by NPS/Dunmire.
Thermal algae, Monument Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP. Photo by NPS/Dunmire.

An overview

Benefits sharing occurs when NPS receives monetary or non-monetary benefits from the commercial use of a discovery or invention resulting from research originating under an NPS Scientific Research and Collecting Permit, or other permit or authorization. The National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 (16 USC 5935(d)) authorizes NPS benefits sharing. Additional authorities, including authorities on technology transfer and innovation, enable implementation. Yellowstone National Park took the lead in preparing a Final Environmental Impact Statement following which, in March 2010, NPS issued a Record of Decision to implement benefits sharing Servicewide. Benefits sharing is a new activity for parks. In 2013, NPS issued policy and procedures for benefits sharing and the related topic of technology transfer.

Director's Order #77-10: NPS Benefits Sharing, issued December 2013, defines NPS benefits sharing, lists fundamental benefits-sharing principles, describes basic benefits-sharing procedures, addresses related ethics and confidentiality, assigns responsibilities for administering benefits sharing, and outlines reporting requirements.

Early history

In 1995, Yellowstone National Park began exploring benefit sharing as a park option. Park managers concluded that Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) under the Federal Technology Transfer Act (FTTA) would be a legal and appropriate way for Yellowstone to implement benefits sharing and enhance resource conservation. Through use of a CRADA, Yellowstone would obtain a commitment by a non-federal scientist or company to share reasonable benefits with the park if the research results led to a commercial application. Benefits could be monetary or non-monetary, for example, providing scientific information vital to the understanding and protection of park resources.

In 1997, Yellowstone National Park entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the biotechnology firm Diversa Corporation. Subsequently, Congress enacted the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998, including the authorization for NPS to enter into equitable and efficient benefits-sharing arrangements with the research community and private industry.

In 1998, Edmonds Institute filed suit in federal court alleging that the Yellowstone/Diversa CRADA violated the FTTA, the NPS Organic Act of 1916, the Yellowstone National Park Organic Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the "so-called public trust doctrine," and the Administrative Procedure Act. In an initial ruling, Judge Royce Lamberth ordered NPS to complete the review mandated by NEPA, including but not limited to an environmental assessment. In his final judgment, Judge Lamberth dismissed the case with prejudice, ruling that benefits-sharing agreements are consistent with the NPS Organic Act and the Yellowstone National Park Organic Act; and that Yellowstone facilities qualify as a laboratory under the FTTA and, as such, may use the authorities accorded federal laboratories under the FTTA. The court also found that legislation enacted subsequent to the Yellowstone/Diversa CRADA reinforces the conclusion that application of the FTTA to the CRADA is consistent with Congressional intent regarding such agreements within units of the National Park System. The National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 provides clear legal authority to conduct scientific study in the parks, use the information gathered for management purposes, encourage use of the parks for scientific study by Federal and non-Federal public and private entities, and enter into benefits-sharing arrangements.

For further background on the history of benefits sharing in Yellowstone National Park, see the park's Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem document. A key point in this history is that Yellowstone is the source of the extremophile bacterium, Thermus aquaticus, discovery of which led to research to improve the functionality of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Improving PCR was essential to developing the ability to efficiently analyze DNA. Today, PCR is the basis of a multimillion dollar industry with applications ranging from the rapid diagnosis of disease to forensic medicine. NPS did not have benefits-sharing authority when this discovery occurred and received no benefits from its commercial application.

Last Updated: December 12, 2014