Yellowstone boss says Trump administration forcing him out - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Yellowstone boss says Trump administration forcing him out

(AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File). FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2016, file photo, a large bison blocks traffic as crowds of tourists take photos in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. The park's superintendent says he's being forced out for what... (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File). FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2016, file photo, a large bison blocks traffic as crowds of tourists take photos in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. The park's superintendent says he's being forced out for what...
(AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File). This August 17, 2017 file photo shows Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk speaking at an event marking a conservation agreement for a former mining site just north of the park in Jardine, Mont. Wenk on Friday, June 1, 20... (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File). This August 17, 2017 file photo shows Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk speaking at an event marking a conservation agreement for a former mining site just north of the park in Jardine, Mont. Wenk on Friday, June 1, 20...
(AP Photo/Matthew Brown,File). FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2016 photo, a herd of bison grazes in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park. The park's superintendent says he's being forced out for what appear to be punitive reasons following disagreemen... (AP Photo/Matthew Brown,File). FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2016 photo, a herd of bison grazes in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park. The park's superintendent says he's being forced out for what appear to be punitive reasons following disagreemen...
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais,File). FILE - This March 23, 2015 file photo shows Head of the National Park Foundation Dan Wenk, at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. Wenk, who has been superintendent of Yellowstone since... (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais,File). FILE - This March 23, 2015 file photo shows Head of the National Park Foundation Dan Wenk, at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. Wenk, who has been superintendent of Yellowstone since...
(Steve Marcus /Las Vegas Sun via AP, File). FILE - In this July 30, 2017, file photo, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks during a news conference near Gold Butte National Monument in Bunkerville, Nev. Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan... (Steve Marcus /Las Vegas Sun via AP, File). FILE - In this July 30, 2017, file photo, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks during a news conference near Gold Butte National Monument in Bunkerville, Nev. Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan...

By MATTHEW BROWN
Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Yellowstone National Park's superintendent said Thursday that he's being forced out in an apparent "punitive action" following disagreements with the Trump administration over how many bison the park can sustain, a longstanding source of conflict between park officials and ranchers in neighboring Montana.

Superintendent Dan Wenk announced last week that he intended to retire March 30, 2019, after being offered a transfer he didn't want. He said he was informed this week by National Park Service Acting Director Paul "Dan" Smith that a new superintendent will be in place in August and that Wenk will be gone by then.

"I feel this is a punitive action, but I don't know for sure. They never gave me a reason why," Wenk said. The only dispute he's had with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the park service, was whether the park has too many bison, Wenk said.

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. Brucellosis causes animals to prematurely abort their young and can be transmitted through birthing material. It also can infect people.

Park biologists contend the 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 Yellowstone's scenic Lamar Valley is being damaged by overgrazing.

Zinke, a former Montana congressman, has paid close attention to projects back home, including proposing a new national monument near Glacier National Park even as he pushed reductions to monuments elsewhere in the U.S. That's stirred speculation he has future political ambitions in the state.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift declined to comment directly on Wenk's assertions or the issue of bison management. She referred The Associated Press to a previously issued statement saying President Donald Trump had ordered a reorganization of the federal government and that Zinke "has been absolutely out front on that issue."

Wenk said he had multiple conversations with Zinke and his staff about bison, most recently this week.

"We're not a livestock operation. We're managing a national park with natural systems," he said. "We do not believe the bison population level is too high or that any scientific studies would substantiate that."

The livestock industry wants Yellowstone's bison herds reduced to 3,000 animals, a population target specified in a 2000 agreement between Montana and the federal government. Montana Stockgrowers Association interim vice president Jay Bodner said Zinke "understands the issues around bison, not only in the park but how that impacts the livestock issue."

Wildlife advocates who want changes to the 2000 agreement expressed dismay at Wenk's ouster.

Thousands of park bison were shipped to slaughter during his tenure to keep the population in check. Wenk sought to curtail the killings with fledgling efforts to transfer surplus bison to American Indian tribes and expanding where the animals are tolerated in Montana.

"We'd hate to set the rug get pulled out from under that with a change in leadership," said Caroline Byrd with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Wenk has spent more than four decades with the National Park Service and seven years in Yellowstone. When he initially announced his retirement, he said he didn't view his proposed transfer to the Washington, D.C., area as political.

A recent investigation into 35 personnel reassignments proposed in the Interior Department under Zinke revealed that 16 senior employees viewed their moves as political retribution or punishment for their work on climate change, energy or conservation. However, the Interior Department inspector general was not able to determine if anything illegal occurred because agency leaders did not document their rationale for the moves.

Yellowstone straddles the borders of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho and was established in the 1872 as the first national park. Under Wenk, it has struggled with a sexual harassment scandal that echoed problems in other national parks and prompted personnel changes in some instances.

Members of Yellowstone's maintenance department were disciplined last year after an investigation found female employees faced sexual harassment and other problems.

Wenk said those problems never were brought up in the discussions about his possible transfer or retirement.

National Park Service Midwest Region director Cam Sholly will be installed as the new superintendent, Wenk said. Sholly is a Gulf War veteran and former member of the California Highway Patrol who previously served as chief ranger of Yosemite National Park.

Jonathan Jarvis, head of the park service under President Barack Obama, described Sholly as a strong leader and good choice to replace Wenk. But Jarvis said Zinke and his team would have an expectation of loyalty from Sholly that they could not get from someone such as Wenk, who already had the post when Trump took office.

___

Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MatthewBrownAP .

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • National politicsPolitics in the US: ImmigrationMore>>

  • The Latest: Auto trade group decries Trump's tariff threat

    The Latest: Auto trade group decries Trump's tariff threat

    Friday, June 22 2018 11:13 AM EDT2018-06-22 15:13:34 GMT
    Saturday, June 23 2018 2:14 AM EDT2018-06-23 06:14:19 GMT
    (AP Photo/Steve Helber). In this Wednesday, June 20, 2018, photo, Catoctin Creek Distillery whiskey is on display in the tasting room in Purcellville, Va. The European Union on Friday will start taxing a range of U.S. imports, including Harley-Davidson...(AP Photo/Steve Helber). In this Wednesday, June 20, 2018, photo, Catoctin Creek Distillery whiskey is on display in the tasting room in Purcellville, Va. The European Union on Friday will start taxing a range of U.S. imports, including Harley-Davidson...
    The Latest: As trade tensions rise, Trump threatens 20 percent tariff on EU cars.More >>
    The Latest: As trade tensions rise, Trump threatens 20 percent tariff on EU cars.More >>
  • High Court: Online shoppers can be forced to pay sales tax

    High Court: Online shoppers can be forced to pay sales tax

    Thursday, June 21 2018 10:32 AM EDT2018-06-21 14:32:03 GMT
    Saturday, June 23 2018 2:14 AM EDT2018-06-23 06:14:03 GMT
    (AP Photo/Jessica Gresko, File). FILE - This April 23, 2018, file photo shows the Supreme Court in Washington.  The Supreme Court says states can force online shoppers to pay sales tax. The 5-4 ruling Thursday is a win for states, who said they were lo...(AP Photo/Jessica Gresko, File). FILE - This April 23, 2018, file photo shows the Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court says states can force online shoppers to pay sales tax. The 5-4 ruling Thursday is a win for states, who said they were lo...

    The Supreme Court says states can force online shoppers to pay sales tax.

    More >>

    The Supreme Court says states can force online shoppers to pay sales tax.

    More >>
  • Trump postpones Thursday's annual congressional picnic

    Trump postpones Thursday's annual congressional picnic

    Wednesday, June 20 2018 12:22 PM EDT2018-06-20 16:22:02 GMT
    Saturday, June 23 2018 2:13 AM EDT2018-06-23 06:13:42 GMT
    President Donald Trump says he's postponing this week's picnic for members of Congress, saying the timing "doesn't feel right.".More >>
    President Donald Trump says he's postponing this week's picnic for members of Congress, saying the timing "doesn't feel right.".More >>
Powered by Frankly