Ian D. Keating / Flickr The water the sky the weather...
Ian D. Keating / Flickr

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has flipped the values of the National Park Service, reducing the priority of preserving natural and historic resources and removing a policy that put science at the core of Park Service decisions. The results have Park Service employees confused over where the service is going, and concerned that America’s great national parks are going to be treated more like second-rate amusement parks, complete with new concessions and hotels on sites sold off to private corporations. Meanwhile, two national monuments have already been decimated and more such disasters may be in the works.

Under President Obama, the National Park Services developed a policy known as “Director’s Order 100.” This policy placed protecting the natural resources of the national parks as the highest priority, and emphasized using science to reach that goal. But as Mother Jones reports, shortly after Donald Trump took office, one of the men who had been involved in drafting the directive, Acting Park Service Director Michael Reynolds, issued a surprising new order that rescinded the directive. Reynolds’s actions seemed counter to his own statements and positions, which included playing a key role in creating Order 100 in the first place. 

But a newly disclosed group of emails shows that it wasn’t Reynolds who kicked science out of the national parks. A FOIA request filed by the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed that Reynolds had orders from above—from Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke—and were driven through the system by other Trump appointees, including a former Koch brother’s attorney who spent years working in right-wing “institutes” developing plans to open federal lands for more mining, drilling, and hunting.

Many of those involved are concerned that they already know where Zinke’s priorities lie.

Jonathan Jarvis, who was President Barack Obama’s Park Service director, said now that the order has been rescinded, national parks could become more welcoming to drones, jet skis and private companies that want to build luxurious accommodations.

National Parks are in a delicate balance. Despite their large size, they’re far too small to represent stand-alone ecosystems that can sustain themselves even if there wasn’t a stream of millions of tourists tromping through. Under constant assault from pollution, climate change, fire, pests, and the “love” of millions of visitors, the parks need deliberate, thoughtful, and serious care to continue to represent even a fraction of what once existed. But it doesn’t seem like they’re going to get it.

Once Ryan Zinke had control of the Interior Department, everything changed. Order 100 insisted that the parks err on the side of caution, taking every step to maintain the resources of the park and placing ecosystem health ahead of recreational activities. The directive also acknowledges climate change, and made planning for that change present in everything from how the service conducted fire management to how it deals with control of invasive species. Those ideas run counter to the beliefs of both Zinke and Trump. So Zinke ordered Reynolds to rescind Director’s Order 100.

And Zinke has let Reynolds know that he’s ready to reshape the National Parks in a fundamental way. Included in the memos is one in which Zinke says he intends to replace Director’s Order 100 with his own strategy, one that will alter the structure and priorities of the service “over the next 100 years.”

Also at the center of reversing the order to preserve natural resources and use a science-based approach is another Trump appointee, Daniel Jorjani. While Donald Trump may be feuding with the Koch brothers over who owns the Republican Party, that hasn’t stopped him from slotting Koch favorites into top slots, and that’s just where Jorjani originated. A string of emails show that Jorjani pushed through Zinke’s orders on not just rescinding Director’s Order 100, but making it clear that the language of the directive was being thoroughly erased.

As a top player at the Koch Institute and for the Chamber of Commerce, Jorjani represents a greater threat than just seeing the National Parks overrun by water slides and four-wheelers. He supports the selling off of large slices of federal land for oil, gas, coal, and uranium production. Trump has already drastically reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah. That includes giving away the area in which spectacular fossil finds had just been made.

For Trump and Zinke, the National Parks are only worth what they can take from them.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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