Dan Wenk, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, says he has been forced out of the job by officials in Trump's White House, telling the Associated Press (AP) the decision was "punitive action".
Last week, Wenk announced his plans to retire in March 2019 having been reassigned to a position in Washington – a post he will not be taking up. But it seems his retirement has been hurried along after the acting director of the National Park Service, Dan Smith, gave Wenk this ultimatum:
Move to DC or be gone by August.
"Dan Smith called me with the decision after I sent my proposed retirement plan and I asked him, ‘When do you want me gone from Yellowstone?’ and he said you need to be out by early August,” said Wenk, reports The Guardian.
“Then he said you can still be in Yellowstone as a tourist but you will no longer be superintendent.”
Wenke has been working at the National Park Service for over 40 years, seven of which were as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, thought of by many as the top job in the National Park Service. The government has been particularly cagey on the issue and have yet to disclose a reason why they have decided to move or, essentially, fire Wenk. Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the interior department, issued a statement saying “The department does not discuss personnel matters.”
"I feel this is a punitive action but I don't know for sure," Wenk told AP.
The underlying feeling is that this is a politically-motivated decision. It seems to be yet another example of business interests trumping scientific and conservationist concerns – and this particular feud comes down to bison.
Wenk has clashed with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over the number of bison the park can hold. Wenk says the current population of 4,000 is sustainable. Zinke wants to cut this number to 3,000, which just so happens to be the opinion of cattle industry ranchers in the park's neighboring state, Montana.
"We're not a livestock operation. We're managing a national park with natural systems," Wenk has said on the issue.
Zinke is a former Congressman for Montana and many believe he is working in cahoots with ranchers and lobbyists for the cattle industry, who are concerned the park's wild bison could spread the brucellosis disease to livestock. (FYI, there have been no reported cases of this happening.)
But Wenk could be just the first in a long line of "reassignments". Jon Jarvis, former park service national director, told The Guardian, “Dan [Wenk] was set up as the first domino to fall.” He believes it is part of a concerted effort to wear down the culture of conservation in the US's national parks and pave the way for monetary and industrial exploitation of the land.
Recently, an investigation found that at least 16 senior officials believe their reassignments have been politically motivated and a product of their own work on climate change and conservation. Because the Interior Department has not given any reason for the decisions, the inspector general was not able to determine whether or not anything illegal had occurred.