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Yellowstone superintendent details plans before retirement

Posted at 3:58 PM, Jun 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 14:46:40-04

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Dan Wenk plans to leave the top job at the place described as the crown jewel of National Parks. On Friday morning, Wenk announced that he would retire as Yellowstone National Park Superintendent on March 30, 2019.

Wenk says he notified his supervisors in Washington back in 2017 that he planned to retire in 2019 but he’s sharing that with the public now because of an April story in the Washington Post.

The newspaper reported that Wenk was on a short list of Park Service managers who would soon be reassigned to other duties.

The Interior Department said at the time it had no personnel announcements to make, and, six weeks later there has been no action to move Wenk or any of the other managers mentioned in the story. But there have been repercussions anyway.

From his office in Mammoth Wyoming, near the park’s northern boundary Wenk said, “It makes it much more difficult to work in the circumstance where everyone thinks you’re not going to be there much longer.”

Wenk feels he still has a lot to accomplish before he retires, so he said he made the announcement, “In order to bring certainty to what the management was going to be and what it was going to look like over the next few months.”

Wenk has a short but ambitious list of projects he wants to complete. That list includes being able to share Yellowstone bison with native tribes in Montana and elsewhere, deal with wildlife migrations from the park to neighboring lands, negotiate new concessions contracts, and perhaps most daunting of all, dealing with the ever-increasing number of people who want to visit Yellowstone.

Carolyn Byrd of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition says managing people in the park is a big issue to get your arms around. Wenk agrees, often calling humans the least studied mammal in the park. So, he wants to include people in the science equation.

Byrd adds that dealing with people in the park will require a strong hand. She said, “How we do the visitor management, that’s going to need the most kind of ongoing leadership.”

To that end, ambitious visitor surveys will begin in Yellowstone this summer. But Wenk won’t be there when decisions based on those studies are made.

He knows that and said it’s part of the job. “I’ve been successful in this job and other jobs because of the work that people have done before me,” Wenk said.

Wenk pointed out he’d like to make a similar hand-off to his successor. He said that task will be made easier by a park staff he praises as hard-working, excellent people who will carry park projects forward, adding, “they will allow the next superintendent and their management team to make great decisions for Yellowstone.”

Still, Byrd said Wenk will be missed. “He’s strategic, he’s thoughtful, he’s smart and he engages in a way that makes a difference for Yellowstone and the ecosystem,” Byrd said.

Byrd, who called Wenk as soon as she heard of his announcement, offered him the ultimate praise: “He’s a remarkable leader.”

Wenk says he expects he will be talking with Interior Department officials in Washington, perhaps including Secretary Ryan Zinke, about his retirement. Wenk says it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to stay on the job in the park through the end of next March.

Reporting by John Sherer for MTN News