Has it really come to this? In a sure sign that the recession will leave permanent scars on our landscape, the National Park Service has announced plans to auction off sections of Yellowstone in an effort to offset falling revenues, ballooning budgets, and diminished expectations from President Obama's stimulus package.
Environmental groups have been quick to protest the decision, calling it an even greater betrayal than any of the notorious land grabs perpetrated by the Bush administration. But park officials are calling for pragmatism, noting that famous portions of the park like the Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone Lake, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone will remain protected, while the sale of the less-visited portions of the park's interior and periphery could improve overall infrastructure and services.
"We're facing down some of the worst financial problems for the park ever, so we have to be honest with ourselves and with the public," said Deputy Superintendent Patrick Diggman. "There are parts of Yellowstone, mostly in the backcountry, where almost no one ever goes. Those places can be sold to interested parties, and we can use the revenue to continue paying salaries, keep the park open, and perhaps even fund development and roads around more popular spots."
Interior Department officials won't name names, but they say several corporate entities have expressed interest in purchasing or leasing portions of Yellowstone's interior, including local snowmobile tour and safari hunting companies. Energy companies haven't commented publicly, but independent surveyors concede that the oil and gas reserves of Wyoming's central deserts could extend into Yellowstone.
"We have to balance preserving our nation's natural heritage while also keeping an eye on reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the short term," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "Both President Obama and I would like to see the U.S. transition to green energy, but until that day, we have to keep all options on the table."
According to preliminary plans, about 30-40 percent of Yellowstone's total area would be up for sale/lease, perhaps as early as May. Forest Service officials are said to be considering similar options in the surrounding Gallatin, Targhee, and Shoshone National Forests.
One thing's for sure: Visit Yellowstone soon—before it changes forever.
Image Credit: blmurch