Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk found out he was officially being replaced by the Trump administration when he saw a press release announcing the news.
A little later Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted photos of the man replacing him, Cameron Sholly, meeting with members of Congress.
In an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, Wenk said he still hasn’t had his calls returned by Interior or National Park Service management about when his last day will be or when Sholly will take over.
“It’s nothing I didn’t expect,” Wenk, a decades-long veteran of the park service who has served as Yellowstone’s superintendent since 2011, said of his treatment.
“I guess the best way I can capture my feelings is they are not affording me any respect for the time my 42-plus years with the park service and my career of achievement,” he said. “And they won’t have a conversation with me about what a transition will look like.”
Wenk had planned to retire next year but on June 4 was told he would either be transferred to an office in the National Capital Region or have to retire early. Despite his desire to stay, Wenk was given 60 days to decide.
He believes he is being removed as Yellowstone’s superintendent for disagreeing with Zinke about how large the park’s bison herd should be.
An Interior spokesperson said the department does not discuss personnel matters.
Wenk said he had previously had “animated” conversations with Zinke over the herd of 4,400 bison. Zinke believed the number was too high and unsustainable. Wenk disagreed, arguing that the average population was a healthy size and has been actively working to move some of the animals to other land.
Ranchers commonly argue that larger numbers of bison hurt their property neighboring the park. Yellowstone borders Montana, a state Zinke previously represented in Congress.
Wenk said he thought he had worked through the disagreements, then he found out he was being reassigned.
Interior’s press release sent around Wednesday announced Sholly’s appointment with a photo of him shaking Zinke’s hand in front of a giant-stuffed grizzly bear.
“As a veteran of the National Park Service, Cam has a track record of working with local communities and Tribes on important wildlife and conservation work and he’s overseen some of the park service’s most high-profile park infrastructure projects in recent years,” said Zinke in a statement.
Wenk said he had hoped to have time to finish projects he’d been working on before retiring, including transferring some of the park’s bison to Sioux tribal land in Montana — one solution he’s worked on to lower the number in Yellowstone.
“I would probably retire now if I didn’t think there were a couple things that I thought were important for me to get done — such as moving bison to Fort Peck,” said Wenk. “They will get done. The question is how much time they will give me to help finalize it.”
BY MIRANDA GREEN – 06/14/18