Deb Haaland says that she would maintain access to national parks and public lands during the ongoing pandemic as Interior secretary under President Joe Biden.
Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico now serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, voiced concern during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 last spring that reopening closed parks without proper planning could endanger employees and the public.
The Interior secretary nominee addressed the issue Wednesday during her Senate confirmation hearing, when asked about it by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
“The global pandemic has created an unprecedented situation that has kept people isolated for almost a year. One way that people have coped with all of the restrictions from the pandemic has been by visiting national parks and public lands,” Barrasso said.
“You were critical of efforts to open federal land during the pandemic even though it was done in coordination with state and local health departments,” Barrasso told Haaland. “It’s important to me that we are ensuring that the public has a place to go during this public health crisis when there are very few other options. Will you protect access to our national parks and other public lands during the pandemic?”
Yes, Haaland answered.
She noted that, with Biden now in office, a mask requirement was implemented that applies in certain situations on public lands and in national parks.
“I feel that if everyone does their part to social distance and be careful and wear their masks, that we will have more of those opportunities” to enjoy public lands, she said.
Haaland joined last March in calling for David Bernhardt, then the Interior secretary, to close some national parks and public lands where there was risk of spreading COVID-19 due to crowding and high visitation.
In May, she accused the Trump administration of moving to reopen closed parks without a coherent plan to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect people, and said there needed to be a data-driven plan before reopenings occur.
“Everyone in our country deserves to know that their health and safety are a top priority when decisions are made, but this Administration continues a pattern of reckless decisions that put people’s lives at risk,” Haaland said in a news release at the time. “The public servants who work at the Park Service need proper workplace protections and visitors need clear guidelines to follow.”
Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Utah and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado were among sites that closed for a while last year, as did Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Many other sites managed by the National Park Service, including Colorado National Monument, remained open, but typically with restrictions in place.