Zinke: National park visitors should 'grab a trash bag'

Former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeNew policy at Interior's in-house watchdog clamps down on interactions with press Overnight Energy: EPA proposes scrapping limits on coal plant waste | Appointee overseeing federal lands once advocated selling them | EPA lifts Obama-era block on controversial mine Latest appointee overseeing federal public lands once advocated to sell them MORE called on national park visitors to help clean up trash during the partial government shutdown that has left parks severely understaffed.

Speaking to The Associated Press days after he resigned amid allegations that he violated ethics rules, Zinke defended his decision to keep parks open during the partial shutdown that started Dec. 22.

“Pitch in, grab a trash bag and take some trash out,” Zinke said.

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Conservation groups have loudly criticized the administration for leaving National Park Service sites open without much of the staff to maintain them, clean them and keep parkgoers safe.

The Obama administration closed parks during the 2013 shutdown and faced criticism from Republicans, who said the president was using parks as a bargaining chip with Congress.

In the two weeks since the partial shutdown began, some parks have reportedly seen excessive trash and human waste, illegal fires and other problems. A handful of parks have closed their gates due to the issues.