Interior Department Defends Blocking Glacier Park Climate Experts from Zuckerberg Trip

Federal agency blocked Glacier Park chief, climate scientist from meeting Facebook founder during recent visit

By Dillon Tabish & Tristan Scott
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg toured Glacier National Park last weekend. Image posted on Facebook

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of the Interior is defending a decision to prevent the superintendent of Glacier National Park and a prominent climate scientist from participating in a highly publicized visit by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Heather Swift, spokesperson for the Interior, issued a statement July 20 defending the department’s actions after the Washington Post published a pair of stories this week revealing that the Interior blocked the federal employees who are considered experts in climate science from meeting with Zuckerberg, an advocate for addressing climate change and a vocal critic of President Trump, who has said climate change is a hoax and chose to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

The Washington Post reported that Swift “made it clear that she did not want Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow involved in the tour.” The National Park Service public affairs staff was also instructed not to post anything about Zuckerberg’s visit on Glacier Park social media accounts, the Post reported.

The Interior Department also blocked Dan Fagre, a well-known scientist with the U.S Geological Survey who’s conducted seminal research on climate change, from meeting Zuckerberg, as was previously planned.

“I was available, I was scheduled and then I was told I couldn’t participate. I asked why and I didn’t get an answer,” Fagre told the Beacon. “We don’t know what’s going on. Everything has been referred to Heather Swift with the Interior.”

The Washington, D.C. directives for the Zuckerberg visit are the latest example of the Interior Department wading into local matters in Glacier Park. In the last week, Glacier Park officials responded to a mandate from the Interior Department to abruptly alter its aquatic invasive species emergency response plan.

In a post published on Twitter, Swift defended the most recent actions. Swift noted Glacier Park’s crowded summer and said, “allocating extensive government resources at the taxpayer expense to a celebrity would have been a waste of taxpayer money and a disservice to average park-goers.”

She added, “After reviewing the event proposal which was sent to the National Park Service, the NPS and Interior made a number of park officials available for the celebrity tour. He was given first-class treatment by the park rangers and had the opportunity to interact with a number of park officials and Gracie the ‘bark ranger’ during his visit which came at the height of the busy season.”

Zuckerberg, in a post to Facebook after visiting Glacier, brought up climate change and its local impacts, writing, “The impact of climate change is very clear at Glacier. In the last hundred years, the average global temperature has risen 1.5 degrees. But in the high elevations of Montana where Glacier is the temperature is warming at 3x the global average — enough to melt glaciers.”

The Interior Department’s shift in perspective on climate change is particularly noteworthy in Glacier Park. Only a year ago, former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, under the Obama administration, visited Glacier and highlighted the park’s shrinking glaciers and the effects of climate change.

“Glacier National Park is on the leading edge, maybe even the bleeding edge, of climate change,” Mow told Jewell during her visit.

Mow is considered one of the National Park Service’s experts on climate change, having spent a bulk of his career in Kenai Fjords National Park, a 600,000-acre preserve along the Gulf of Alaska, before joining Glacier, which has become a prominent example of the changing climate.

Fagre has been studying glacial recession since the 1990s and has published definitive papers on the subject of shrinking glaciers.