Park Service group to feds: ‘Pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development’

Retired National Park Service employees spoke with reporters today about the impacts of oil and gas development on some national parks—particularly from adjacent lands overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Coalition to Protect America’s Parks sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, expressing concern over the “alarming” number of oil and gas proposals near parks and what they see as overall efforts by the department to reduce protections for national parks in order to encourage oil and gas drilling. “As former land managers, we understand the need to balance competing priorities,” the former NPS employees wrote. “But we fear the pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development.”

The coalition represents 1,400 retired, former and current National Park Service employees. The letter to Zinke cites concerns about six parks in particular, including Chaco Culture National Historical Park in the energy-rich San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico.

Interior Department reorganization will hit New Mexico’s landscapes, communities

The Trump administration reassigned several top-level employees in its reorganization of the U.S. Department of the Interior. That includes Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region, and Weldon “Bruce” Loudermilk, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The New Mexico State Director for the Bureau of Land Management, Amy Lueders, whose background is in economics, is also being reassigned to the Fish and Wildlife Service. In a state like New Mexico, with more than 20 American Indian tribes, vast tracts of public lands, federal water projects, myriad endangered species issues, large-scale oil and gas development and existing and proposed mines on public lands, the staffing changes—and what they signal— could have deep and long-lasting effects on the state’s landscapes, communities and future. During a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall questioned Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the staffing changes, slated to take place at the end of June.

Meet the new Trump staffers in charge of tribal, land, water and wildlife issues

When speaking to a congressional committee more than two decades ago about a bill that would have made sweeping changes to the federal Endangered Species Act, Kathleen Benedetto said the landmark 1973 law was flawed for not taking “into consideration that extinctions are part of that natural process.”

“If you look at the geological record, you can see throughout time that extinctions occurred,” Benedetto said in the 1995 House Committee on Natural Resources hearing. “We’re all aware that the dinosaurs were here for millions of years, and they’re not here any longer, and they disappeared long before man ever emerged as a species.”

Related: Bill would terminate BLM, Forest Service law enforcement

Benedetto co-founded the Women’s Mining Coalition and spoke on behalf of Grassroots ESA Coalition, an anti-regulation group aligned with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Now, Benedetto is one of the new special assistants to Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. She’s reportedly in the Bureau of Land Management after working on Donald Trump’s transition team and as a Republican legislative staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee. As a GS-15 employee she’ll be earning between $101,630-$132,122 per year.