Interior ordered an end to science-forward parks policy

The Obama-era guidelines emphasized research and precaution in decision-making.

 

This article was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As deputy director of the National Park Service, Michael Reynolds played a key role in developing a sweeping new vision for managing national parks. The new policy, enacted in the final weeks of the Obama administration, elevated the role that science played in decision-making and emphasized that parks should take precautionary steps to protect natural and historic treasures.

But eight months later, as the first acting director of the Park Service under President Donald Trump, Reynolds rescinded this policy, known as Director’s Order 100. Newly released documents suggest that top Interior Department officials intervened, ordering Reynolds to rescind it.

Former Deputy Director of the National Park Service Michael Reynolds. Reynolds is now the superintendent of Yosemite National Park.
National Parks Service

A memo addressed to Reynolds states: “Pursuant to direction from (Interior) Secretary (Ryan) Zinke, I hereby instruct you to rescind Director’s Order #100.”

Reynolds, now the superintendent of Yosemite National Park, did not respond to requests for an interview.

The emails were among 170 pages of documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Union of Concerned Scientists, an activist group.

Some top officials in the National Park Service were dismayed that the policy was canceled in August of 2017, according to the emails. Chris Lehnertz, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, called it “hard news for me to swallow,” according to an email she wrote to Reynolds and others.

Jonathan Jarvis, who was President Barack Obama’s Park Service director, said now that the order has been rescinded, national parks could become more welcoming to drones, jet skis and private companies that want to build luxurious accommodations.

“We’re back into the era when those kinds of things will be proposed,” Jarvis said. “I’m sure we’re going to see some.”

Jarvis, who signed Director’s Order 100, said he thinks the Trump administration objected to the policy because it stressed that parks follow the “precautionary principle,” preventing actions or activities that plausibly threaten park resources and human heath, even when there is uncertainty. It also acknowledged the significant impact that climate change has on parks and directed them to incorporate climate change science in management decisions.

Jonathan Jarvis, then the director of the National Park Service, sits with Michael Reynolds and another Park Service official, Reggie Tiller, in 2013.

One memo to Reynolds said that Zinke will replace the order with his own strategy for the national parks, “including potential changes to the Department’s piorities and organization over the next 100 years.”

The emails show that Daniel Jorjani, Interior’s principal deputy solicitor, played a key role in reversing the order. Jorjani is a Trump appointee who was an attorney from 2010 to 2016 for foundations funded by the Koch brothers, fossil-fuel billionaires who support the spread of free-market principles throughout government. During the Bush administration, Jorjani was an Interior Department counselor and chief of staff.

In one June 13, 2017, email exchange heavily redacted by the Interior Department, a lawyer in the solicitor’s office said Jorjani “or someone else may want to change the language, but …” The next part of the email is blanked out. The next day, another lawyer asked Jorjani in an email: “Do you want us to hold this pending your review or should we start moving it through to get it signed?”

On June 19, Jorjani emailed another lawyer, asking her to “strengthen the language” on the rescission memo. Later the same day, Jorjani emailed Reynolds and another top Park Service official asking: “Do you have a preferred date for withdrawing DO-100?” Later that day, Jorjani sent the rescission memo to the Park Service.

Jarvis, who worked with Jorjani during the Bush administration, wasn’t surprised that Jorjani directed the withdrawal of the order.

“This fits well with Jorjani’s worldview — the private sector can do better anything than government,” Jarvis said. During the Bush administration, Jorjani pushed to transfer various activities in the national parks to the private sector, Jarvis said.

The rescinded policy was developed in response to the 2012 “Revisiting Leopold” report from the science committee of the Park Service’s advisory board. The scientists urged the Park Service to update the vision of national parks to reflect the many changes underway in parks due to climate change and other factors. (In January, most members of that board quit in protest after Zinke hadn’t met with them even once.)

The Trump administration has repeatedly downplayed climate science and eliminated efforts by previous administrations to address climate change. The National Park Service pressured a scientist to remove every reference to the human role in causing climate change from a scientific report projecting the risk to parks from sea level rise and storm surge.

Tony Knowles, the last chairman of the Park Service’s advisory board, said the Trump administration is veering far from the principles outlined in Director’s Order 100.

For example, in May, the Trump administration proposed canceling rules that ban certain types of hunting in much of Alaska’s large national preserves. These rules, developed in 2015 through an extensive scientific and public process, prohibit using artificial light to kill black bear sows and their cubs at their dens, using bait to lure black bears to their deaths and shooting swimming caribou from a motorboat.

If the order was still in place, “it would be very difficult to justify doing away with these regulations,” said Knowles, a former governor of Alaska.

The trove of documents also provides insight into the Interior Department’s public relations strategy. Officials drafted news releases to explain the rescission of the policy but the day the withdrawal became effective, Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum told top Park Service officials that Interior’s communications team had decided there would be no press release. Reynolds emailed the press official asking: “If no press I’m curious how we are now to notify folks.” No response to his question was included in the released documents. Barnum declined to comment.

Elizabeth Shogren can be reached at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WRITING SKILLS TUTOR FOR HIRE!
    Fort Collins, CO college students welcome. Meet on your college campus!
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING DIRECTOR
    The Development and Marketing Director is a senior position responsible for the execution of all development and marketing strategies to raise funds and increase public...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Coordinates all Wyoming Wildlife Federation philanthropic activities. Tasks include identification, recruitment, and retention of donors, organizing fundraising events, and assisting with grant writing.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • CORPORATE & GRANTS PARTNER MANAGER
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation Corporate Partnerships Manager February 2020 www.ForeverOurRivers.org Forever Our Rivers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in late 2016 with the mission...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year-round outdoor living. REDUCED to $999,000, 575-536-3109.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...