National Parks advisory board members resign en masse

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (C) talks to National Park Service Rangers, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Nine of the 12 members of the National Park Service advisory board have resigned in protest, claiming that the Interior Department has ignored the board and has set aside the protection of the country’s national parks.

The board members said that interior secretary Ryan Zinke has been unwilling to hold a single meeting since he took office in March. In their resignation letter, the board’s chairman, Tony Knowles, a Democrat and former governor of Alaska, said that the board has been waiting for a year to meet with the Interior Department.

“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 Knowles. “I have a profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside.”

According to Knowles, the board has not convened since President Donald Trump took office, even though the board is required to meet twice a year. He also shared that the board was not consulted when the Interior Department recently made decisions to increase visitor fees and lift the ban on plastic water bottles in the nation’s park system.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Interior Department said that the claims of the board members that the department did not engage the board were “patently false.” The department welcomed the resignation of the nine members while slamming the board for allegedly ignoring sexual harassment cases.

“We welcome their 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,” said Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift.

Aside from Knowles, the board members who resigned include Gretchen Long, Paul Bardacke, Carolyn Finney, Judy Burke, Stephen Pitti, Milton Chen, Belinda Faustinos, and Margaret Wheatley. Their terms as board members were set to expire in May.