WASHINGTON, DC, January 17, 2018 (ENS) – Nine of the 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board today resigned in frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting in 2017. The board is supposed to meet at least twice a year.
Board Chair Tony Knowles, a Democrat and former governor of Alaska, said in a resignation letter to Zinke that the advisory board has been waiting for a year to meet and “continue the partnership” between the board and Interior officials.
“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,” the resignation letter says. “I have a profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside.”
Knowles said the resignees were not consulted on recent decisions to impose steep increases on visitor fees to some national parks and to reverse a ban on plastic water bottles in the park system.
The eight members of the advisory board who resigned together with Knowles are: Paul Bardacke, Judy Burke, Milton Chen, Belinda Faustinos, Carolyn Finney, Gretchen Long, Stephen Pitti and Margaret Wheatley.
Three board members did not resign: Rita Colwell, a science professor at the University of Maryland; Linda Bilmes, a Harvard finance professor, and Carolyn Hessler Radelet, chief executive of the nonprofit Project Concern International.
“The resignation of nine of the 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board is both unfortunate and understandable,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for the nonprofit, nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association, established in 1919.
“For eight decades, the non-partisan group of issue experts and committed park enthusiasts have studied issues, consulted fellow experts and made recommendations to the Director of the National Park Service and Secretary of the Interior on matters facing our parks, from historic site management to new park creation. And yet, this administration has shown no interest in benefiting from their expertise.”
“In fact, the Interior Secretary hasn’t even met with them, despite repeated requests throughout 2017,” said Pierno. “Not one single meeting.”
“With all of the issues facing our National Park System, from a more than $11 billion maintenance backlog to budget cuts and staffing issues, this is the very time the Advisory Board should be consulted,” she said. “Instead, they are being ignored while the administration continues to carry out their war on parks.”
First authorized in 1935, the board advises the director of the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior on matters relating to the National Park Service, the National Park System and programs administered by the National Park Service.
In May 2017, the Interior Department froze the work of more than 200 advisory boards, committees and subcommittees, according to a department memo obtained by CNN.
The memo said the department was implementing the freeze to review “the charter and charge of each committee” and that the review required the groups’ meetings be postponed until September 2017 at the earliest. But a subsequent meeting of the National Park System Advisory Board has never been called.