During a recent Earth Day ceremony, President Donald Trump announced that his administration will “open up national parks and public lands,” and Interior Secretary Bernhardt continues to tout the reopening of some national parks.
“We are also eager to get Americans back into our national parks,” says Phil Francis, Chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. “But it is too soon.”
“Parks absolutely should not open until the safety of National Park Service (NPS) employees, concession employees, volunteers and other partners, including those who work and live in gateway communities, can be ensured. Parks must be able to demonstrate that they have adequate staff to protect resources, personal protective equipment available to those staff members, and employee training including specific training related to COVID19 as recommended by the CDC and OSHA.”
Francis points to problems with NPS employee housing as another area of concern.
“The vast majority of NPS staff will be in contact with visitors to our national parks. And many NPS employees live on-site, in close quarters, in government-owned housing. According to an NPS document, parks should estimate that 40% of the total population at the park will require isolation and 4% will require hospitalization. This is not only impossible under the current set-up, it is unacceptable.”
The Coalition is also calling for system-wide and individual park plans to be put in place prior to reopening, including safety plans that ensure compliance with CDC and OSHA workplace safety guidelines and NPS Safety Policy. These plans should be distributed to park employees and be made available to the public.
“Parks should follow the most cautious standards to ensure the safety of all involved in park operations, as well as visitors who visit the parks and utilize services provides in gateway communities. Superintendents, in consultation with their local communities, must be delegated the authority to make decisions about when it is safe to open. They should not be treated as pawns in a larger political game.
We take the protection of park resources and employees seriously, and we urge the administration to do so as well. This means protecting our parks for the long term and supporting efforts such as the Great American Outdoors Act, rather than attempting to win short term political gains by rushing to reopen national parks at the expense of human health and safety.”