By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service
Photo: National Park Service Advisory Board members are concerned Secretary Ryan Zinke's Interior Department is not focused on the protection of national parks. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
January 18, 2018 (Helena, Mont.) - After nine of the twelve members of the National Park Service Advisory Board resigned this week, public lands supporters are noticing what they say is a pattern of indifference from Secretary Ryan Zinke's Interior Department.
In a resignation letter unveiled this week by the Washington Post, board chairman Tony Knowles said repeated requests to meet with Zinke have been ignored. He also expressed concern that stewardship and protection of national parks have been "set aside."
Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks, said he agrees, and called the agency's actions over the past year - from reducing the size of national monuments to opening up lands to energy development - discouraging.
"I spent 41 years in the National Park Service trying to protect and preserve these natural and cultural resources for future generations,” Francis said. “And many of the actions taken, in our view, are sort of an assault on our mission."
Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said the agency denies that it refused to meet with the board.
The National Park System Advisory Board was created in 1935 and designates national historic or natural landmarks. The terms of most of the nine members who quit were set to expire in May.
Recently, the advisory board has focused on climate change and how to encourage younger and more diverse visitors to national parks. But they said these items aren't part of Interior's agenda.
Francis called the agency's treatment of the board disrespectful. He said Interior is holding some hypocritical positions. For instance, the department has expressed concern for national parks' $11 billion maintenance backlog even though it also supports a 13 percent budget cut to the Park Service.
"It just seems like instead of being supportive of our national park and its values - which to me represent the really important places in our country's history and wonderful natural resources - just the opposite is happening,” Francis said.
He said he is hopeful people will stand up for national parks, and that he gets emails from people every day expressing support for public lands.