Following a report in the Washington Post, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk has reportedly spent more time thinking about his future.
The report detailed a possible plan by the Interior Department to reassign several senior service members as part of a management “shakeup.” Under this potential plan, Wenk would have gone to oversee the National Capitol Region in Washington, D.C.
Wenk denied such a move was in the works, both in an email to Yellowstone staff and to reporters at the annual National Parks luncheon in Cody, Wyoming.
In an interview with MTN News, Wenk said the report got him thinking more about retirement—but it also affirmed his commitment to Yellowstone National Park:
Wenk says he fully expected to end his career in the same place he started working for the National Park Service — Yellowstone.
“I’ve worked for 42 years for the National Park Service. I’m 66 years old. So, it’s, my retirement’s not long off under any event.”
So far, the Interior Department has only said it has no announcements to make about National Park personnel. But, if asked, would Wenk consider going to Washington?
“If the call came with reasons why I should go, and how I could be helpful in terms of the National Park Service, to which I’ve devoted my career, I might,” he said.
Wenk also discussed several projects underway in the park that he feels committed to in his role as superintendent—bison, fisheries, and visitation.
Later this year, the park plans to ship bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, which has sought to establish a herd of Yellowstone bison outside the park for years. The park has also sought to establish a quarantine program where bison are screened for brucellosis. Once clean, they can be shipped outside of the park to other conservation herds.
The move comes following a series of protests against the hunting and slaughter of bison under the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Five protesters were arrested in March, following attempts to block the shipment of bison to slaughter. Fences were also cut twice at Stephens Creek in January and February 2018, releasing bison being held.
In response, the park has proposed increasing security at Stephens Creek. It has also proposed changing the bison population quota under the IBMP from 3,000 to 4,200—in order to reduce the need for large culls, which are unpopular.
Looking at fisheries, the park is gearing up for its annual program against lake trout, an invasive species that have displaced the native cutthroat trout species in Yellowstone Lake. Although the program has posted tangible gains in the past few years, fishery experts and biologists say the work is far from over. From MTN News:
“Fisheries will continue to be a big issue. We’ve made some great strides with the concession operation in Yellowstone. We have a couple of other contracts that are soon to expire, and to write new contracts to continue to improve visitor facilities is important,” Wenk said. “We haven’t touched half the roads in the kind of treatment that they need to do. That needs a major influx. Employee needs. Employee housing in Yellowstone National Park. We have to take care of our employees.”
Indeed, with the approach of summer, visitation to Yellowstone National Park kicks into high gear. Last year, for instance, over 4.1 million people visited Yellowstone National Park. The year before that, nearly 4.3 million people came to the park, which broke the record for Yellowstone visitation.
As mentioned, the sheer amount of people and cars in Yellowstone National Park, coupled with delays in maintenance and infrastructure repair, has left its toll on park roads and facilities. A pair of visitor and traffic studies released last year, for instance, say the park’s road system could become terminally poor by 2023 if traffic remains the same or increases. The studies also show that many visitors think the park is overcrowded.
According to MTN News, Wenk says he looks forward to working on all these matters.
“I think there are some things I’m well positioned to finish up. I’d like to get the opportunity to do that,” he said.