National Park Superintendents stay mum during ‘blackout on news’

There’s an easy reason to explain why National Park Service superintendents have suddenly gone mum: They’re scared. That’s according to former National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.

“In my conversations with folks that are in the field, there is an element of fear that has been conveyed down, that you’ll be punished if you speak out, certainly if you speak to the press,” Jarvis told a group of House Democratic leaders this week. In an interview, Jarvis said the Trump administration wants to keep superintendents silenced to prevent them from describing the widespread damage they’ve discovered in parks during the partial government shutdown.

“This is complete chaos, and superintendents know that — and they don’t want that word out,” said Jarvis, who led the Park Service for eight years under President Obama. “The [Trump] administration is trying to suppress any bad news.”

The issue has become a cause for consternation among the media and park advocates alike, who say they’ve effectively been shut out by the Park Service during the long shutdown.

“There’s no outreach at all — in fact, it’s just the opposite,” said Richard Ring, executive council member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, testifying at a hearing called by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and leaders of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

National Parks Traveler, a nonprofit media organization in Utah that covers the parks, called the situation “a blackout on news,” adding that top NPS officials in Washington are “keeping a tight clamp on the flow of information” by gagging the superintendents during the shutdown. “The parks should not be political pawns, and Park Service staff should be allowed to accurately describe how the parks and their resources are being treated,” wrote Kurt Repanshek, founder and editor-in-chief of the organization.

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