Three-quarters of the seats on the U.S. National Park Service advisory board are vacant following a mass resignation Monday night, citing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s unwillingness to meet with them.
Nine of the panel’s 12 members, led by former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, handed in their resignations. The bipartisan panel was appointed by President Barack Obama and the terms of all members who quit were set to expire in May.
Knowles, in a letter of resignation to Zinke from himself and the eight other members, said the board had “worked closely and productively through 2016 with dedicated National Park Service employees, an inspiring Director and a fully supportive Department.”
Since then, as explained in the letter, the board had repeatedly tried and failed to secure a meeting with the new interior secretary.
“[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 the agenda,” the letter reads.
Alaska Public Radio quoted Knowles as saying that the Department of the Interior “showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science, the effect of climate change, protections of the ecosystems, education.”
“And it has rescinded NPS regulations of resource stewardship concerning those very things: biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change,” he added.
“The three board members who did not resign include Harvard University public finance professor Linda Bilmes, University of Maryland marine science professor Rita Colwell and Carolyn Hessler Radelet, the chief executive of Project Concern International. Terms for the first two end in May, while Radelet’s term does not expire until 2021.
In an email, Bilmes said she did not resign her post because she is conducting research with other colleagues funded by the National Park Foundation, and wanted to complete her project.”
Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat who is the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement of support for the resigning board members.
“The President still hasn’t nominated a director for the National Park Service and Secretary Zinke has proposed tripling entrance fees at our most popular national parks,” she said. “His disregard of the advisory board is just another example of why he has earned an ‘F’ in stewardship.”
Since taking office, President Trump has sought to roll back protections of national parks and public lands under the auspices of the Department of the Interior. The administration has ordered a dramatic downsizing of two massive national monuments in Utah and has announced plans to open up oil drilling in protected areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic.