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(Page 3 of 4)

When the Forest Service draft environmental impact statement claimed that existing data did not show that Yellowstone's geysers and other geothermal features would be harmed by such nearby development, Townsley submitted a reply asking that no leases be given. The Park Service response to the Forest Service stated that geothermal development destroyed New Zealand's Geyser Valley and that mere geothermal exploration destroyed the Beowawe Geysers in Nevada, which had been second to Yellowstone's on the North American continent.

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The Forest Service recommended denying lease applications in areas nearest the park, approving or deferring some others. It also set criteria for protecting Yellowstone's thermal features before any lease could be granted by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Managemant. But the whole issue is now in court because of an appeal of the Forest Service decisions by two lease applicants.

On the east, Yellowstone is being threatened by activities in the Washakie Wilderness area of Shoshone National Forest. A number of companies want to explore for oil and gas there. This could seriously affect Yellowstone's grizzly bears. The grizzly, a threatened species within the contiguous United States, surviving only in Glacier and Yellowstone Parks and adjacent public lands, needs an extremely large area in which to range. Wildlife experts point out that the survival of Yellowstone's shrinking grizzly population depends on the bears' ability to roam from the park boundary into areas such as the Washakie Wilderness, which covers some 85,000 acres. No position from Watt as yet on Washakie Wilderness

Townsley has protested to the Forest Service that ''oil and gas leasing and development will be detrimental to Yellowstone National Park.'' But Secretary Watt, who flew over the Washakie Wilderness by helicopter last fall after a visit to the park, has as yet taken no position on the controversial issue.

''The grizzly is not able to withstand the pressure of human activity,'' Townsley testified before Congress. ''Its survival depends on our will to give it space as the dominant resource. The grizzly finds itself in conflict with public hunting, grazing, logging, summer homesite development, transportation corridors, and recreation user activities, as well as with mineral and oil exploration and recovery.''

Superintendent Townsley could have added to the list the entrepreneurs who pursue profits without regard for park values or wildlife. Park scientist Mary Meagher told me about one such instance. A grizzly sow that had been fitted with an electronic collar, so her patterns of movement could be learned, was tracked to Cooke City, Wyo., on the northestern border of the park. The attraction was an open garbage truck outside a motel, whose owner had advertised in Denver newspapers and on television that although bears couldn't be seen in the park, they could be viewed at the All Seasons Motel.

Because the sow and her cubs were a hazard to townspeople and visitors, park scientists trapped the bears and moved them deep into the park. Several days later, however, the mother and cubs were back at the motel garbage truck. This time, after being relocated by helicopter, the cubs spooked and ran off, and became separated from their mother. Their survival is doubtful. If the sow again returns to the motel, she will have to be destroyed.

The motel owner purchased a bear-proof garbage dumpster after being told that his open truck violated county ordinances.

Yellowstone's popularity has forced it to give priority to serving the public , leaving minimal funds and staff for scientific research and management. The park has relatively good wildlife management and research centering on bears, elk, and bison, but its geological and other natural resource management has taken a definite back seat. With geysers and other unique geothermal features, Yellowstone National Park has not a single resident geothermal expert. Nor has the superintendent been successful in getting funds to establish an advisory group of experts to review and assess present knowledge of the park's geothermal resources.