Retiring Yellowstone Superintendent Speaks On Grizzlies And High Visitation

Aug 10, 2018

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk held a virtual press conference on Thursday addressing his retirement on September 29, 2018.

In the beginning of June, the Department of Interior (DOI) reassigned the superintendent to Region Director of the National Capital Region in Washington, D.C. Wenk was planning to retire next year and instead of going to D.C. decided to retire early. During the conference, Wenk said he doesn’t feel like he was pushed out by the DOI but he still felt punished since it was well-known that he was planning to retire in 2019.

Wenk addressed many topics ranging from his favorite spot in Yellowstone to the bison quarantine program and the problem of sexual harassment by Yellowstone employees.

When asked about the upcoming Wyoming grizzly bear hunt in the fall, he said while the national park has reached its capacity for grizzly bears, he wasn’t sure if hunting was an effective management tool. He said he’s most worried about what happens if a hunter kills a grizzly bear near the park’s boundaries. 

“If someone shoots and wounds a bear and that bear goes into the park [the hunter] can’t recover that bear,” said Wenk. “Does that hunter still have a chance to shoot another bear, and then how do you account for those bears?”

Additionally, he said a high percentage of Yellowstone National Park visitors come to the park to see bears in their natural habitat. He said there needs to be a monitoring period to watch the effect the hunt has on visitors and local communities.  

“I hope we’re wise enough to make adjustments so that all the different things can coexist,” he said.  

Wenk also said addressing the increasing visitation to the national park is critical.

The park sees 35,000 visitors during certain summer days. This is stretching its capacity. Wenk said gateway communities are an important resource in the solution for the increased visitation.

“They have to be part of the solution...in terms of how we manage visitation, how do we make sure we don't cause negative impacts on the very resources that people are coming to see?

He said a solution must be found soon as the park can’t keep up with the current rate of growth. Problems include traffic, conflicts with wildlife and infrastructure.  

Wenk served as Yellowstone’s superintendent for seven years. He’s retiring after a 43-year career with the National Park Service. Cameron Sholly, who is currently the head of the National Park Service’s Omaha office, will take over as superintendent in October.