Buried in the brouhaha over Stormy Daniels and a far larger storm, the yet unresolved government shutdown, came news from the National Park Service (NPS).
Former Alaska Governor and now former chair of the NPS Advisory Board, Tony Knowles, announced that he and seven other board members have quit their positions. Two other members of the advisory council submitted letters of resignation separately.
The reason? “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,” wrote Gov. Knowles in a public letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
Knowles and his fellow board members said their concerns spanned a wide variety of issues, from scientific research to climate change to educational programs that could have involved the NPS. The board, which was first established in 1935, is supposed to convene twice a year. But according to the Washington Post, the group has not met at all since President Trump took office a year ago.
In the meantime, board members said they never received a response from Zinke after several attempts at outreach. And the silence continued, despite the fact the NPS is tasked with managing some of the most cherished American icons, from Yosemite to Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty.
It is important to remember that the NPS is an economic engine in addition to a steward of the environment and caretaker of historic sites. The agency has claimed a role in supporting local businesses, with 331 million park visitors in 2016 supporting over 318,000 jobs and almost $35 billion in economic output.
Knowles also said in an interview with Alaska Public Radio that in addition to the Interior Department’s lack of interest in the advisory board, the agency also suspended regulations covering biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change.
The past year has found the NPS and public lands managed by other agencies caught in the cross-hairs of the Trump Administration. For example, the White House had proposed steep increases in entrance fees at some of the country’s more popular parks; the public comment period was extended to December after public outcry. And the Department of Interior’s decisions, which ranged from expanding drilling rights to attempts to sell 3.4 million acres of federal lands, have sparked grassroots protests – and also scored the rebuke of companies including REI and Patagonia.
Explaining her reason for quitting, board member Carolyn Finney, a geography professor at the University of Kentucky, wrote in an op-ed to Newsweek that she was weary of “the unwillingness of the new interior secretary to engage with us and hear about the work that so many individuals around the country are doing to care for the national parks and each other.”
Now the NPS is left without any advisory panel tasked with designating future national parks to protect additional historic sites or natural landmarks. And therein lies the agenda of the Trump Administration, which has largely suspended or ignored such citizen panels, relying on allies such as Zinke and his supporters to make decisions instead – without engaging the public and other stakeholders. “The hindrances advisory bodies have faced fits a larger theme of the Donald Trump presidency, which has been steadfast in its anti-environment approach,” concluded Charlie May for Salon.
Image credit: Leon Kaye