Acting Interior Secretary’s Directive to Keep Parks Open Without Resource Protection Violates Century-Old Bedrock Law

Jan. 10, 2019 – This action blatantly disregards the fundamental duties of park staff who have dedicated their careers to ensuring our nation’s most precious natural and historic places are enjoyed not only today, but for years to come.

Background:

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Despite multiple reports of unruly behavior and damage to Joshua Tree, from cutting down the namesake Joshua Trees to carving roads into sensitive wilderness areas, the park has announced that it will remain open to the public under the administration’s revised NPS contingency plan to use money collected from visitor fees to do so. Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt instructed park managers across the country to use those fee dollars to bring on additional staff to clean restrooms, remove trash, patrol the parks and open areas that have been closed during the shutdown. However, under the directive, Superintendents are not permitted to use the fee money to bring on extra staff to address resource protection. NPCA believes this direction has and will result in direct negligence of park resources and therefore violates the fundamental mission outlined in the National Park Service Organic Act, the founding law that governs the National Park System.

The Organic Act, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, established the fundamental duties of the National Park Service to manage our parks and “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” More than 16,000 park staff are currently furloughed, leaving only a skeleton crew to protect more than 80 million acres of the National Park System. Instructing parks to remain open without adequate staff to keep park resources “unimpaired” violates the fundamental stewardship principles defined in the Organic Act.

Statement by Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association

“Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s directive to keep parks open while failing to provide staff for cultural and natural resource protection is not only dangerous, it violates the Organic Act. During this administration’s last shutdown, we saw the kinds of unnecessary damage to our natural resources that can occur when park staff are limited, and this time around is no different. In Joshua Tree alone, there have been reports of cut down Joshua Trees, overflowing trash and human waste and illegal off-road activity on fragile wilderness areas. It’s clear that without adequate staff, our natural resources cannot be properly protected.

“More than a century ago, the Organic Act was signed into law, establishing the Park Service and guidance for forever protecting our nation’s most treasured places. Now, this administration is ordering parks to remain open without adequate staff, putting the future of our parks in jeopardy. The political pressures being put on our park managers are forcing them to follow an irresponsible, shortsighted plan. This action blatantly disregards the fundamental duties of park staff who have dedicated their careers to ensuring our nation’s most precious natural and historic places are enjoyed not only today, but for years to come.

“The Trump administration and Congress must come to an agreement to fund our government and fully reopen our national parks with adequate staff. Until then, superintendents should be given the authority to close their gates unless their park and its visitors can be protected with minimal staff. Visitor safety and the protection of our most precious cultural, historic and natural resources must be a top priority.”

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org