One of the many surprises of Donald Trump’s presidency is that he managed to drive the National Park Service into the resistance.
It all started on Trump’s first day in office, when the president called the acting director of the National Park Service seeking pictures that would prove his false claims about the size of his inauguration crowd. Relations with the agency never improved, as the Trump administration feuded with rogue NPS tweeters, slashed the size of two national monuments in Utah, authorized offshore drilling around the country (except in Florida), and prohibited NPS from sharing its objections to a bill that would reduce its ability to regulate hunting and fishing in parks, including the killing of bear cubs in Alaskan wildlife preserves.
On Monday night, 9 out of 12 members of the national Park System Advisory Board decided they’d had enough. In a one-page letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, board chairman Tony Knowles, a former Alaska governor, tendered their collective resignations. Their primary gripe: While they are required by law to meet twice per year, Zinke has refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting in the last year. Knowles explained:
For the last year we have stood by waiting for the chance to meet and continue the partnership between the NPSAB and the DOI as prescribed by law. We understand the complexity of transition but our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of its agenda. I wish the National Park System and Service well and will always be dedicated to their success. However, from all of the events of this past year I have a profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside. I hope that future actions of the Department of Interior demonstrate that this is not the case.
The bipartisan board was established in 1935, and in recent years it advised the secretary of the Interior on issues ranging from climate change to attracting younger visitors to the parks. Most of the current members have worked together for seven years, and the terms of all who resigned were set to expire in May. The Washington Post reports that while they knew Zinke would appoint new members in 2018, they were surprised that they weren’t even consulted on recent changes, like a steep increase in park visitor fees.
“We resigned because we were deeply disappointed with the department and we were concerned,” Knowles told the New York Times, adding that Zinke “appears to have no interest in continuing the agenda of science, the effect of climate change, pursuing the protection of the ecosystem.”
Until Zinke names new advisory board members, the U.S. will not have a body that can designate national historic or natural landmarks. In general, though, the Trump administration doesn’t seem that concerned with the status of federal advisory panels. In May, Zinke suspended the work of more than 200 advisory boards, committees, and subcommittees, pending a department-wide review. Some appear to be operating again, but the status of others is unclear. When the Post reached out to Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift for an update, she replied, “Boards have restarted,” but offered no further details.