Nine of the National Park Service Advisory Board’s 12 members resigned Monday over frustrations with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The resigning members said in a statement that Zinke had repeatedly refused to convene the panel or discuss agency matters with it since taking over the Park Service in March.
“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 wrote in a letter to Zinke.
Zinke has instituted a number of significant and controversial changes to federal conservation policy in the past year, including removing protections from large swaths of several “monument” land reserves throughout the country, opening all U.S. shore areas to drilling for oil and gas, and restricting department scientists from speaking or writing about climate change. All the while, Knowles told the Washington Post, Zinke has “frozen out” the panel and refused to seek its input.
The panel consists of private citizens who are not Interior employees. They are required to meet twice a year and formulate recommendations for the Interior’s leadership, primarily on designations of national historic or natural landmarks. With all but three panel members gone, Interior is now without an advisory body to guide its conservation decisions.
Some former department employees have also denounced Zinke. Joel Clement, an ex-Interior whistleblower who alleges that his then-supervisors retaliated against him for his work on climate change, told the Huffington Post in October that morale among Interior staff was “in the toilet” and that Zinke had criticized staff for not showing enough “loyalty” to President Trump.