For a man who called himself “a Theodore Roosevelt guy,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seems to have remarkably little interest in championing the 26th president’s best idea—the National Park System (NPS). According to the Washington Post, nine of the twelve members of the National Park System Advisory Board handed in their resignations earlier this week, out of frustration for Zinke’s refusing to meet with them for the past year and for ignoring the mission of the park system. In a letter to the secretary, the head of the bipartisan board, former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, wrote, “I have profound concern that the mission of the stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside. I hope that future actions of the Department of Interior demonstrate that this is not the case.”
The National Park Advisory Board was created in 1935 and is made up of “citizen advisors chartered by Congress to help the National Park Service care for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage,” according to the NPS. “We resigned because we were deeply disappointed with the department and we were concerned,” Knowles told The New York Times. Zinke “appears to have no interest in continuing the agenda of science, the effect of climate change, pursuing the protection of the ecosystem.”
“Secretary Zinke’s refusal to even meet with members of the National Park Service Advisory Board is further evidence of the Trump Administration’s disregard for our national parks,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “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. His disregard of the advisory board is just another example of why he has earned an ‘F’ in stewardship.”
When Zinke took office last year, he styled himself as a friend of outdoorsmen and expressed support for keeping public lands public. But he has incurred sharp criticism for opening up federal public lands for further energy development and for shrinking the size of two national monuments by some 2 million acres.
What’s more, Zinke has made clear that he believes public lands should be exploited to bolster the economy, a position no doubt contrary to that of the NPS advisory board. In a recent interview with Outdoor Life, Zinke tried to defend his pro-oil land policies by calling his most vocal critics “an elitist sort of hunter and fisherman,” a comment that quickly garnered backlash from OL readers. In November, the Interior Department’s inspector general opened an investigation into Zinke’s travel expenses, after he took a charter flight from Las Vegas to Montana aboard a plane owned by oil-and-gas company executives, further highlighting his close ties to the energy sector.
“Secretary Zinke likes to compare himself to Theodore Roosevelt, a visionary sportsman whose conservation achievements are unsurpassed,” Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said last year. “Actions speak louder than words, and American hunters and anglers demand leadership from the secretary that upholds—and advances—Roosevelt’s legacy.”