Nearly every member of Trump's advisory board for national parks quits in protest

The Interior Department says it 'welcomes' the resignations

Emily Shugerman
New York
Wednesday 17 January 2018 20:33 GMT
A general view of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
A general view of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona ( RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)

Almost every member of an advisory board created to care for America’s national parks has quit in protest after Trump administration officials refused to meet with them or allow them to hold a single meeting last year.

Ten of the 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board handed in their resignations on Tuesday, expressing their “profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside”.

“[O]ur 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,” board chairman Tony Knowles wrote in his resignation letter, co-signed by eight other board members.

Another member, Carolyn Hessler Radelet, submitted a separate letter of resignation. Two of the resigning member’s appointments had already expired, according to the Interior Department.

Interior Department spokesperson Heather Swift said the Department “welcomed” the resignations, and would now “fast-track filling these new vacancies with people who are actually dedicated to working with the Department to better our national parks”.

The National Park System Advisory Board counsels the Director of the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior on issues from national landmarks to climate change. The board is supposed to meet twice a year, according to Mr Knowles.

But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suspended all outside committees in May of last year to review their “charter and charge”. As a result, this year’s board has yet to hold a single meeting with Mr Zinke, or even among themselves.

"If they're not going to meet with us, fine. That's their prerogative," Mr Knowles said in an interview with Alaska Public Radio. "But we wanted to make a statement as a board as we left what our concerns were."

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Ms Swift said the Department had worked with the board as recently as 8 January to renew its charter and schedule a meeting. She added that former Interior Secretaries Sally Jewell and Ken Salazar had attended only one meeting with the board during their tenure.

“We welcome [the board members’] resignations and would expect nothing less than quitting from members who found it convenient to turn a blind eye to women being sexually harassed at National Parks and praise a man as ‘inspiring’ who had been blasted by the inspector general for ethics and management failures, all while taking credit for the extensive work of private companies during the NPS centennial celebration,” Ms Swift said.

The “inspiring” man appears to be a reference to former National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, who was officially reprimanded for ethics violations in 2016. The Parks Service also faced a number of workplace sexual harassment complaints that year. The Service’s then-deputy director of operations called the allegations a "wake-up call" and promised to bring back "a culture of transparency, respect, and accountability".

The remaining members of the advisory board are Harvard University public finance professor Linda Bilmes and University of Maryland marine science professor Rita Colwell. Ms Blimes told the Washington Post she is conducting research funded by National Parks Foundation and wanted to finish her project.

Mr Zinke has completely disbanded two advisory bodies over the last year. He replaced the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council with the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council, which focuses on “promot[ing] opportunities and expand[ing] access to hunting and shooting sports on public and private lands".

The Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science saw its charter quitely expire. It was not renewed or replaced.

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