Despite an intention of retiring as Yellowstone National Park superintendent in 2019, Dan Wenk says he’s been told he’ll be reassigned as soon as August over what he assumes is his management of Yellowstone bison.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Wenk says National Park Service Acting Director Paul “Dan” Smith told him that he would be replaced by August. Though he wasn’t told this directly, Wenk assumes he’s being replaced because some Interior Department officials, including Secretary Ryan Zinke (a former Montana congressman), want to scale back the size of the Yellowstone herds and more aggressively limit their movement outside the Park. From AP:
“I feel this is a punitive action but I don’t know for sure,” Wenk told The Associated Press. He wasn’t given a reason and said the only dispute he’s had with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was over bison.
Ranchers in neighboring Montana have long sought reductions in Yellowstone’s bison numbers because of worries that they could spread the disease brucellosis to cattle and compete with livestock for grazing space outside the park.
Wenk and park biologists have said the current population of more than 4,000 bison is sustainable. But Zinke and his staff have said the number is too high, Wenk said, and raised concerns that areas of the park such as the scenic Lamar Valley are being overgrazed….
“We’re not a livestock operation. We’re managing a national park with natural systems,” Wenk said. “We do not believe the bison population level is too high or that any scientific studies would substantiate that.”
The battle between National Park Service officials and Montana stockmen has been real and pronounced for years, long before Wenk came on the scene.
Wenk had announced his retirement in the face of a potential reassignment as part of a Department of the Interior shakeup — a move that he intended to keep him in Yellowstone through March 30, 2019. Bison management is just one of the many issues facing Wenk and now his replacement.