Benefits-Sharing in the National Parks
Environmental Impact Statement
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Benefits-Sharing?
- "Benefits-sharing" refers to agreements between biodiversity researchers and their institutions or companies and the National Park Service that return benefits to parks when the results of cooperative research lead to the development of commercially valuable applications.
- Results of benefits-sharing agreements could include scientific analyses to address resource management issues, training for park staff, scientific equipment, and opportunities to share in economic benefits if research leads to commercially valuable discoveries.
- Currently, the NPS facilitates research in the parks, yet if an approved research project results in a valuable discovery, no direct benefits are returned to the parks.
- Benefits-sharing agreements are the result of any scientific research that searches for or discovers a valuable application, process, or product through the study of nature. Humans have been looking to nature for millennia as they searched for better tasting foods, plants that cured maladies, or other things that improved the quality of life. However, recent advances in science and biotechnology have increased the potential value of such research even more. Some reports indicate that more than 30% of all pharmaceuticals used today in industrialized countries have their origins in nature.
What about Research in the Parks?
- Benefits-sharing agreements do not authorize any research to occur in parks - they only allow parks to receive benefits if research activities become commercially valuable. A separate research permit is required for scientists to conduct research projects in parks prior to the consideration of any benefits-sharing agreement, and the research permit is subject to NPS research rules, criteria, and regulations (36 CFR 1.6 and 2.5). These rules and regulations provide that a research project may be authorized only if it is appropriate in a national park. Projects may not harm a park's natural or cultural resources or interfere with visitor use and enjoyment of a park. Federal laws and these regulations prohibit harvesting or commercial use of park resources; thus, benefits-sharing agreements cannot permit these activities.
What are the Legal Authorities?
- The National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 authorizes NPS to "enter into negotiations with the research community and private industry for equitable, efficient benefits-sharing arrangements." The Federal Technology Transfer Act authorizes benefits-sharing through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs).
- In March 1999, a federal court ordered the National Park Service to complete a NEPA analysis of the environmental impacts of implementing a CRADA with Diversa Corporation, a biotechnology company conducting research in Yellowstone National Park. In April 2000, the court upheld the use of CRADAs in Yellowstone, recognizing they are consistent with the NPS mission.
What is happening now?
- In response to the court's order, the NPS prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) that examined the potential environmental impacts of benefits-sharing agreements throughout the National Park System.