Coalition executive council member Sarah Bransom submitted her opinion article to The Hill on October 10, 2019.
America’s national parks and public lands are at the core of our national identity. Throughout their existence, congressional representatives from both sides of the aisle have supported them, recognizing their importance to land conservation, outdoor recreation and economic investment. Together, Republicans and Democrats have created a network of over 400 parks, landmarks, wild and scenic spaces, and historical sites, totaling over 85 million acres that provide a lifetime of memories for visitors and generate billions of dollars for our nation’s economy.
But the bipartisan consensus to support our treasured National Park System is being undermined by a persistent and unprecedented effort from President Trump and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to weaken protections for these special places, thus rendering them more vulnerable to fossil fuel companies looking to exploit our nation’s natural resources for private gain.
Now, the administration is turning their attacks towards their own federal employees, the men and women tasked with protecting our public lands, national parks and the millions of visitors they welcome every year.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) has made the misguided decision to reorganize the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and relocate senior officials from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado. This action effectively undermines the partnership between the National Park Service (NPS) and BLM officials who often work in close collaboration. This move also leaves BLM lands more vulnerable to industry and local officials looking to exploit America’s rich natural resources for personal and corporate profit. In fact, BLM employees will now sit in the same office building in Grand Junction as oil companies like Chevron.
DOI claims that this reorganization will allow BLM officials to better understand concerns in the field. This rationale is contradicted by a second move just announced by DOI, NPS superintendents around the country must notify Washington supervisors before issuing comments to other parts of the federal government, particularly those that concern energy extraction and industry development near national parks.
NPS employees are hired based on their area of expertise. Their position descriptions and performance standards require them, among other things, to apply relevant laws and regulations, science and professional judgement while doing their jobs.
In addition, NPS employees assigned to comment on proposals from energy extraction industries must uphold the NPS Organic Act to leave parks “unimpaired for future generations.” When energy or other development could adversely impact park resources, NPS employees assigned to review these proposals must ensure no derogation of park resources would occur. This must be conducted professionally and without due influence from political agendas, both on a local and national level.
Yet, the administration is now calling for review of staff work by senior officials leaving park resources vulnerable to a political decision, not based on science and subject matter expertise.
This is hypocrisy. This administration is only concerned with hearing voices from the field when those voices support their pro-industry agenda. They do not want to hear the voices urging caution, those who speak up for the protection of our national parks and public lands. But these actions are consistent with a DOI — led by a former oil and gas lobbyist — who has enacted numerous and unprecedented rollbacks in environmental protections.
The attacks on our national parks and public lands by this administration, are part and parcel to a larger testing of our American values. We need to stand up and advocate for these irreplaceable natural and cultural resources. We need to defend the experts who are working to protect them. That’s the only way we will preserve the things that matter most.