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Federal Land Deal Protects Yellowstone Herd and Geysers

The New York Times, August 22, 1999
By Matthew L. Wald

The Federal Government and a new age church have completed a deal that will protect bison and geysers in Yellowstone National Park, President Clinton announced today in his weekly radio address.

The $13 million deal involves 9,000 acres of land adjacent to the park. The Carter Administration had negotiated over the same land, the Royal Teton Ranch, in 1980, but the Reagan Administration dropped the deal. In 1981, the Church Universal and Triumphant bought it from the publisher Malcolm Forbes.

The new agreement includes a swap of 1,000 acres that will give the church more land near a fallout shelter it maintains, and it will receive $13 million, which it will use in part to maintain local churches and for a retirement fund for its founder's widow, Elizabeth Prophet.

The Government will get prime wintering territory for bison along the park's northern edge, and rights to underground supplies of hot water, which, if tapped, might disrupt geysers and hot springs in the park. The Government gave the church rights to surface water in exchange.

The Yellowstone bison herd of 2,400 is the only one in the country that is not interbred with cattle, said Michael S. Clark, the executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a nonprofit group in Bozeman, Mont. Mr. Clark said that state employees had been shooting the animals as they left the park in an effort to control the bacterial disease brucellosis, which the state said the bison would pass on to cattle. He said this deal would protect the animals.

The park is on a 7,000-foot plateau, and the bison, along with elk and other animals, seek lower elevations with milder climates in winter. The newly protected acres fit the bill.

''This is a vital piece of private land that we've got a second chance on,'' Mr. Clark said.

A vice president of the church, Murray L. Steinman, said, ''It's a small land swap but the deal was very complicated because it had so many different components.''

The land, Mr. Steinman said, is ''some of the finest natural habitat in the United States.'' One phase of the transfer is complete, he said, and others would follow; for example, the Government may buy and then retire the grazing rights on some church land, to keep cattle off it.

The church will retain 12 square miles in the deal, he said.

Church officials said in depositions in the early 1990's that more than 100 firearms and two armored personnel carriers were stored near the fallout shelter. Mr. Steinman, asked about the catastrophe preparedness, said they were contained in a 16-acre area ''out of thousands and thousands.''

''I don't like the term 'survivalist' as much as 'insurance policy,' '' he said.


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