Recently, nearly all of the National Park System Advisory Board, the citizen panel that advises on National Park Service issues, resigned in frustration after repeated requests to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to hold meetings were ignored. The board normally convenes twice a year, but has not met since the beginning of the Trump administration. The National Coalition for History (NCH) strongly objects to Secretary Zinke’s refusal to engage with the panel and has sent a letter to the Secretary urging the reconstitution of the advisory board and the resumption of regular meetings.
On January 15, seven members of the twelve-member board sent Zinke a resignation letter written by board chair and former Alaska governor Tony Knowles. An eighth member joined them two days later, and two others had terms that had already expired (although they did still sign on to Knowles’ resignation letter), leaving only two board members remaining.
The National Park System Advisory Board is made up of scholars and experts in the humanities and the natural, social, and physical sciences who advise the Director of the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior on issues related to the National Park system. Their purview includes a number of history-related programs. Most notably, board approval is required for the designation of National Historic Landmarks. With no board members in place, it is unclear how Landmark nominations could move forward without their review.
The expert advice of citizen boards like this one is crucial to the functioning of federal agencies, and the preservation of historic places and national parks is necessary to ensure nuanced and evidence-based understandings of our past. NCH calls on Secretary Zinke to ensure that the new board members demonstrate broad expertise in relevant science and humanities fields, and a demonstrated commitment to the mission of the National Park Service.