This week, 10 out of 12 National Park System Advisory Board members have resigned, leaving the federal government without a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks, reports the Washington Post.
In a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, departing board chairman Tony Knowles, a former Alaska governor, wrote: “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.” The volunteer board, and local councils, cited frustration over Zinke's refusal to meet with them regarding national park issues for over a year, "as prescribed by law," said Knowles.
New historical and natural landmarks, which are subject to the board’s approval, have not been declared since 2016, according to the Post. (The existing Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia, was simply upgraded to national park status this month.)
Decisions on a steep increase to visitor fees and to reverse a ban on plastic water bottles in the park system were not run by the board; nor were advisors consulted on the decision to alter climate change directives and other policies.
Since January 2017, a new National Park Service Director has not been named, leaving a deputy director currently in the role.
Board member Carolyn “Carrie” Hessler Radelet submitted a separate resignation letter on Wednesday. “[F]rom all of the events of this past year I have a profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside,” wrote Radelet, whose term was not set to expire until 2021.
After his four-month review of federal lands and waters, Zinke has recommended the modification of 10 national monuments. This rollback of public lands (which is unprecedented in scale) opens them up to possible drilling and mining uses, by reversing Antiquities Act protections that are the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt.
Zinke has also come under fire for his wildly unpopular plan to open up U.S. coastal waters to more offshore drilling, exempting only Florida in a show of support for its Republican governor.
The National Park System Advisory Board comprises "citizen advisors chartered by Congress to help the National Park Service," and has been an active and nonpartisan institution since 1935.