NPR’s Rachel Martin talks to journalist Elliott Woods, whose profile of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke just appeared in Outside magazine.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There has been a mass resignation at the National Park Service. Nearly every member of the Park Service Advisory Board, nine in all, quit in protest. They say Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has ignored them and that he’s rolling back protections for public lands. Zinke’s office quickly countered, saying the board members are lying and that they have ignored sexual harassment at the Park Service. To untangle all these threads, we have reached journalist Elliott Woods at his home in Montana. It happens to be Ryan Zinke’s home state. Woods recently profiled the interior secretary for Outside magazine. Hey Elliott, thanks for being with us.
ELLIOTT WOODS: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: There’s been this long-brewing insurgency at the National Park Service during the Trump administration over the course of the past year. So was this mass resignation expected in some way?
WOODS: You know, I can’t say if it was expected or not, but I think it fits the pattern of senior-level officials in the Interior Department and the National Park Service and other agencies in the Trump administration who are reacting to a very clear and firm anti-science stance among the senior officials and – the senior Cabinet officials in the Trump administration. So we’ve seen whistleblower claims from people like Joel Clement in the Interior Department who was reassigned to an accounting job away from a job advising on climate policy and things like that. And I think this fits that pattern of people in those positions saying enough is enough. We’re not being consulted. We’re not being used for our intended purpose. And it would be better for us to make this very public statement of disgust and protest than to continue functioning in kind of a Potemkin position.
MARTIN: So then Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, combats this mass resignation by lambasting these board members, saying that they have ignored sexual harassment at the Park Service. What can you tell us about that?
WOODS: Well, to me, that just seems like a pivot to distract attention from the merits of the claims that these National Parks Advisory Board members are making. So it is definitely a fact that sexual harassment has been a pervasive problem, not just in the National Park Service but in the Department of the Interior in general. There was a survey that came out last autumn that showed that 38 percent of the agency’s employees had been harassed or discriminated against.
And Secretary Zinke made a very public statement through a YouTube video in December to all Department of Interior employees that he was really going to crackdown on this. He very publicly fired four senior officials and said, I’ll fire 400 more if necessary. So it’s definitely true that he is prosecuting this issue, but to pivot from the very legitimate criticisms of the advisory board to the harassment issue seems like a bit of a red herring to me.
MARTIN: Right. You spent a fair amount of time with Zinke. You followed him for a couple days in Alaska, had a one on one, even went fly fishing with him in Glacier Park in Montana. What is your impression of him?
WOODS: My impression is that Ryan Zinke is ready to adapt in whatever ways are necessary in order to please whatever – the boss in whatever position he’s in.
MARTIN: That’s journalist Elliott Woods. He wrote a profile recently for Outside magazine of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
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