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Washington, DC August 23, 2017 – National Park Service protests over serious adverse impacts from pending legislation have just ended up on the cutting room floor, according to a memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These recent actions reflect both a reversal in fundamental national park policies as well as a much deeper politicization of park management by Trump operatives.
In a five-page June 30, 2017 memo, Acting National Park Service (NPS) Director Michael Reynolds laid out several major objections to the latest version of the draft “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act” or SHARE Act – an amalgam of provisions relating to guns, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation that has been under Congressional consideration in various configurations for the past five years. The memo was to Interior’s Legislative Counsel and routed through the office of the Acting Assistant Secretary Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
Most all of Reynolds’ language in the memo was crossed out by someone with the initials “CH” – that is Casey Hammond, a former Republican congressional staffer recently brought into Interior as a Trump political appointee. Hammond offers neither suggestions nor explanations for his wholesale deletions. Among Hammonds’ extensive excisions were NPS protests about SHARE Act provisions that would –
• Extinguish NPS oversight of over both commercial and recreational fishing in waters within park boundaries;
• Strip protections for denning bears and wolves on national park lands in Alaska; and
• Completely eliminate environmental reviews of construction projects on adjacent federal lands that may also negatively affect parks.
“These are not minor matters – these changes would forfeit whole spheres of national park stewardship,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It appears that national parks are no longer allowed to give Congress their honest views about the impacts of pending legislation.”
Despite Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s repeated pledges to empower field managers and “push as much authority as I can back to the front lines,” this transaction denotes the control of Trump operatives and the complete lack of consultation with the career staff inside Interior. The Hammond edits also signal that on national park policy even low-level political functionaries carry more weight than park experts.
Lobbyist control over national park and other federal lands will likely consolidate with the confirmation of former lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Deputy Secretary. This month, his former firm’s clients won a reversal of a policy allowing parks to ban or limit sales of plastic water bottles. Bernhardt was also an unbridled ally of petroleum interests during his prior stint at Interior under George W. Bush.
“These are disturbing signs that not only national parks but all federal lands will devolve into special interest swag bags,” added Ruch. “Secretary Zinke’s short tenure at Interior is already more reminiscent of Teapot Dome than Teddy Roosevelt.”
Mid-June House hearings on a discussion draft of the SHARE Act, which also contains controversial weapons-related provisions such as making purchase of firearm silencers easier, were canceled in the immediate wake of shootings at the Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.