U.S. Interior Department blasts resigning National Parks board members

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (C) talks to National Park Service Rangers, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

(Reuters) - The U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday said it welcomed the mass resignation of members of the National Parks Service advisory board, saying they had ignored sexual harassment cases and lied about how they were treated by the Trump administration.

The sharply worded statement underscores the tensions between the President Donald Trump’s administration and some public employees over Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental protections and boost development of federal lands.

Seven of the service’s 10 advisory board members submitted their resignations recently, panel chairman and former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles told Reuters on Tuesday, saying the Trump administration had ignored their requests for a meeting.

“We welcome their resignations and would expect nothing less than quitting from members who found it convenient to turn a blind eye to women being sexually harassed at National Parks,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an emailed statement.

She added it was “patently false to say the Department had not engaged the board, when as recently as January 8 we were working with the board to renew their charter, schedule a meeting, and fill vacancies.”

The Trump administration has claimed the National Parks Service was afflicted with a culture of sexual misconduct during the administration of President Barack Obama that was not adequately addressed by the previous leadership.

The advisory board members, which included Republican members, were appointed while Obama was president. Most of their terms were set to end in May, which would have allowed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to choose replacements then.

Knowles had said the concerns of the resigning panel members included climate change and a difference in policies regarding the hiring of diverse candidates by the U.S. National Park Service.

The National Park System Advisory Board was created by the U.S. Congress in 1935 and is tasked with advising on matters such as the designation of historic and natural landmarks.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinkis in Los Angeles; Writing by Richard Valdmanis