Jan. 17 (UPI) — A majority of the members of the U.S. National Park Service advisory board resigned this week — citing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s unwillingness to engage with them.
Nine of the panel’s 12 members — a bipartisan panel appointed by former President Barack Obama — signed off on a letter of resignation on Monday.
Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles said in the letter the board had “stood by waiting” to meet with Zinke all year after working “closely and productively through 2016” near the end of Obama’s presidency.
“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,” Knowles said.
The advisory board, however, has not met with the new interior secretary.
“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.”
Knowles expressed “profound concern” stemming from all of the “events of this past year,” noting that he feels “the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside.”
“The department 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,” Knowles told Alaska Public Media. “And it has rescinded NPS regulations of resource stewardship concerning those very things: biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change.”
Knowles said he and the board, which included Gretchen Long, Paul Bardacke, Carolyn Finney, Judy Burke, Stephen Pitti, Milton Chen, Belinda Faustinos and Margaret Wheatley, wanted to “make a statement.”
“If they don’t want to meet with us, fine. That’s their prerogative,” he said. “But we wanted to make a statement as a board as we left what our concerns are, because we don’t think they the new policies reflect the vast number of public that support the national park system.”
The three members who did not resign are Linda Bilmes, Rita Colwell and Carolyn Hessler Radelet. Blimes said she was working on a project funded by the National Park Foundation and cited wanting to finish as her reason for not joining the others.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has sought to roll back national parks protections — including ordering the downsizing of two large national monuments in Utah.