Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks

Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks
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The Trump administration abruptly disbanded an advisory committee earlier this month whose recent recommendations to greater privatize national parks were met with heavy criticism.

The Interior Department quietly ended meetings of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee on Nov. 1, more than four months before its charter was set to expire on March 13, 2020.

The committee, which was established under former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE in 2017 and commonly known as the "Made in America" committee, was an industry-stacked advisory board. The committee was created with the purpose of advising on “public-private partnerships across all public lands” with an emphasis on improving infrastructure. Zinke described the group as “the private sector’s best and brightest​.”

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All of the seats were filled by representatives of the recreation industry. At least three of the members had been reportedly flagged by Interior’s own staff as having potential conflicts of interest. 

The disbanding of the group comes after the board submitted recommendations in late September that suggested privatizing campgrounds within national parks, limiting benefits for senior visitors and allowing food trucks as a way to bring more money into the system. Those recommendations were met with heavy skepticism.

Administration officials said no action has been taken on the recommendations. 

“No action has been taken on the committee's recommendations nor will any action be taken in the future unless and until the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service determine the recommendations will improve the visitor experience, protect national park resources, and are determined to be prudent investments,” a National Park Service spokesperson told the Hill in a statement.

The agency did not provide a reason for the early termination of the committee.

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The National Park Service is struggling with a $12 billion maintenance backlog. Agency officials under Trump have suggested that parks could be better modernized with the help of the private sector. Some suggestions have included bringing in new recreational opportunities to attract visitors, such as archery lessons or ropes courses. 

“With growing interest in expanding and supporting public recreational access, the NPS is working to create a second century campground experience that supports sound investment and management for campgrounds that may be enjoyed by all. To this end, we are coordinating a campground modernization and rehabilitation strategy,” the Park Service spokesperson said.

But privatizing campgrounds in national parks is a polarizing idea. Many who view parks as a way to provide outdoors time to Americans of all stripes don’t want to see visitors priced out of national treasures. 

“Privatizing America’s national parks is just the Trump administration’s latest attempt to sell out and sell off our outdoor heritage,” said Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill in a statement.  

“But don’t be fooled — simply disbanding this industry-laden advisory committee doesn’t provide Americans with any assurances that the Trump administration won’t continue its pursuit of turning our national parks into amusement parks," O'Neill added. "Elected officials and members of Congress, especially from Western states, must demand that this special interest giveaway meets its rightful demise and ensure that it never happens again.”