In an open letter released on Tuesday, more than 350 veteran National Park Service employees pleaded with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to deny proposed oil and gas leases adjacent to park borders.

"National parks represent the best of America," the letter says, adding that they offer protection for wildlife and natural structures and vital respite from the busyness of every day life. "As former land managers, we understand the need to balance competing priorities. But we fear the pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development."

In a press call about the letter, three retired rangers and park managers said they were concerned by the increasing number of leases and lease proposals, particularly those involving Dinosaur National Monument on the border of Utah and Colorado.

"Oil and gas development can adversely impact visual resources, air quality, scenic views, and dark night skies, as well as natural soundscapes," said Mike Murray, former deputy superintendent of Cape Cod National Seashore. "All of these impacts can adversely affect the experiences of park visitors."

The letter was signed by former superintendents of some of the country's most popular parks, including Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and Shenandoah, among many others. Read the full letter below and see a full list of the people who signed it here.

Letter to Secretary Zinke opposing oil and gas development near national parks:

Dear Secretary Zinke:

We, the undersigned, are former employees of the National Park Service (NPS) and active members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition). As a group, the Coalition represents more than 35,000 years of national park management experience. We have devoted our careers to serving the American people and protecting places like Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Zion National Parks. We are writing out of concern for the alarming number of oil and gas proposals that are advancing next to national parks, as well as broader efforts by the Interior Department to reduce protections for national parks in order to encourage oil and gas drilling.

National parks represent the best of America. They protect our grandest canyons and tallest peaks, shelter wildlife species – like bison, grizzly bear and bald eagle – that are intertwined with our national identity, and preserve the visible record of our nation’s diverse and colorful past. In our increasingly busy and complex world, national parks are where we go to refresh our spirits and bear witness to the awe-inspiring beauty of nature and the perseverance of our ancestors and others who traveled before us.

As former land managers, we understand the need to balance competing priorities. But we fear the pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development. In recent months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed oil and gas leases adjacent or in close proximity to several national parks, including Zion National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Fort Laramie National Historic Site. Additionally, the BLM has decided not to prepare several “master leasing plans” (MLPs) in Utah, which were intended to help protect nearby national parks from the adverse impacts of future oil and gas activity.

We know from years of experience that people come to national parks with certain expectations. They expect pristine views of snow-capped mountains and rivers running through deep-bottomed canyons. They expect to see herds of bison and elk and the occasional bear or wolf. They expect dark night skies and peace and quiet in the companionship of friends and family. But they do not expect national parks that are surrounded by oil and gas rigs, shrouded in haze, and disrupted by noise from industrial activity. There are places where oil and gas development is entirely appropriate. But rarely do those places include the lands that surround our national parks.

In 2008, the BLM sold several oil and gas leases next to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah. It was a rushed exercise, and NPS was not consulted until late in the process. A federal court halted the leases, because of the grave threat to the national parks, and an internal review conducted by a veteran BLM/NPS leadership team recommended a series of changes to BLM’s leasing program designed to avoid similar conflicts in the future. Those recommendations were largely adopted, and are achieving their goals. Master Leasing Plans (MLP’s) are reducing conflicts across the West, including around Arches and Canyonlands, and a new leasing process has created a vehicle for identifying and resolving NPS concerns for leases proposed near national parks. MLP’s prevent irreparable damage to park resources and avoid costly litigation, while allowing appropriate levels of oil and gas development to occur

Our national parks are not meant to be islands in seas of development. For this reason, we ask that you avoid issuing any oil and gas leases near our national parks, including the parks identified in paragraph 3 above. There are many other places on our public lands where industry can pursue oil and gas leasing without threatening the majestic scenery, wildlife, visitor experience, and dark night skies that make our national parks such special places.

In closing, we appreciate that oil and gas leasing on federal lands near national parks is a nationally important activity that must be well planned and managed in order to ensure there is an appropriate balance between energy development and resource conservation. We ask that you continue to uphold the policies that were adopted following the 2008 lease sale in Utah. Those polices, which include the Master Leasing Plan policy, are protecting our national parks, while reducing conflicts with proposed oil and gas development.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks Executive Council

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