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Sunday, August 22, 1999 Published at 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK


World: Americas

US buys Yellowstone land from cult

The new land will give bison a critical winter grazing range

The US Government has bought nearly 10,000 acres of land surrounding Yellowstone National Park from a religious cult.

The $13m deal aims to provide additional grazing grounds for herds of American bison.


The BBC's Tom Carver: Concerns that the group's activists could damage the environment
President Bill Clinton said it was also designed to better protect the park and ensure its famous geyser, Old Faithful, "remains faithful for years to come".

He described the deal as "another milestone in our effort to preserve the matchless wonders of America's first national park".

The agreement gives the US Forest Service 9,300 acres (3,700 ha) of the 12,000-acre Royal Teton Ranch, north of the park.

It also secures for the government the ranch's geothermal rights.

Nuclear shelters

The land is owned by a controversial religious group called the Church Universal and Triumphant.

Environmentalists had been concerned that the organisation might damage the environment through its activities.

In 1990, the group dug fall-out shelters in a hillside after its spiritual leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, warned of an imminent nuclear holocaust.

Ms Prophet says past religious leaders, such as Jesus and Buddha, speak to her followers through her.

Another of its ideas involved developing a church-run spa using geothermal waters.

Environmentalists feared the plan could deplete underground water supplies feeding Yellowstone's geysers.

Survival

However, US Forest Service spokesman Dave Garber said he thought the church "sincerely wanted to see these lands protected and not developed".

He said the deal did not include the land where the bomb shelters were located.

The church bought the property from the late publishing magnate Malcolm Forbes in 1981.

The federal government tried - and failed - to purchase it at that time.

Winter range

The White House says its acquisition will provide a critical winter range for Yellowstone bison, which in some years face starvation because of inadequate food supplies in the park.

It says it will also help preserve important migration corridors for elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears and other wildlife.

President Clinton said: "Permanently protecting these lands will help to ensure the survival of the bison and other herds that roam the wilds of Yellowstone."

Other sites 'at risk'

However, the president complained about what he said were Republican attempts to cut his planned $1bn Lands Legacy fund.

The fund is intended to protect more than 100 sites across the country including civil war battlefields, Martin Luther King's birthplace in Atlanta and the Big Sur coastline in California.

Mr Clinton said: "These priorities are at risk because Congress has approved only a fraction of my request."

He also warned that the Republicans' $792bn tax cut plan would reduce funding to national parks and "even threaten to shut some of them down".

But Mr Clinton's Republican opponents rejected the warning.

House Republican leader JC Watts of Oklahoma said: "This is just one more attempt by President Clinton to scare the American public with threats of dire consequences if sound Republican ideas are implemented.

"So far, not a single one of his dire predictions has come true."



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