Nearly all members of the National Park Service advisory panel abruptly quit on Monday in protest of the Trump administration's policies, which they say have neglected science, climate change and environmental protections.
"From 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," the head of the panel, Tony Knowles, wrote in a letter of resignation addressed to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees management of the country's national parks and monuments.
The letter was signed by nine of the panel's 12 members. The bipartisan panel was appointed by former President Obama. The terms of the members who quit were due to expire in May.
The advisory board, first authorized in 1935, advises the director of the National Park Service and the interior secretary on matters relating to the National Park Service and the National Park System.
Environmental advocates have criticized Sec. Zinke's policies, from his recommendations to President Trump to shrink and reduce protections for public lands, to opening up the nation's thousands of miles of coastline to offshore oil drilling.
"We resigned because we were deeply disappointed with the department and we were concerned," Knowles told the New York Times.
Knowles added that Sec. Zinke "appears to have no interest in continuing the agenda of science, the effect of climate change, pursuing the protection of the ecosystem."
According to the letter, the board had repeatedly tried but failed to secure a meeting with Zinke.
"[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 the agenda," the letter states.
Knowles, who has served on the board for seven years, said the board is supposed to meet twice a year but was told things were "suspended." Prior administrations met with the board immediately, he noted.
"This discourteous and disrespectful treatment of the Board is inexcusable and, unfortunately, consistent with a decidedly anti-park pattern demonstrated by Secretary Zinke's department." Phil Francis, chairman of the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks, an advocacy group of current and former national park employees, told the Times.
As for the remaining board members, the Washington Post reported:
"The three board members who did not resign include Harvard University public finance professor Linda Bilmes, University of Maryland marine science professor Rita Colwell and Carolyn Hessler Radelet, the chief executive of Project Concern International. Terms for the first two end in May, while Radelet's term does not expire until 2021.
In an email, Bilmes said she did not resign her post because she is conducting research with other colleagues funded by the National Park Foundation, and wanted to complete her project."
Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, who is the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, offered her support of the board members who quit.
"The President still hasn't nominated a director for the National Park Service and Secretary Zinke has proposed tripling entrance fees at our most popular national parks," she said in a statement. "His disregard of the advisory board is just another example of why he has earned an 'F' in stewardship."