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Tribes Say Yellowstone Supervisor's Removal Could Jeopardize Bison Program

Bison in Yellowstone
Daniel Mayer via CC BY-SA 3.0

Northern Plains tribes are calling for the Interior Department to keep Yellowstone National Park Supervisor Dan Wenk on board until after a program to relocate wild bison from the park onto their reservations is complete. 

Wenk said he was forced out over disagreements with the Interior Department over growing bison population numbers and the spread of brucellosis to cattle. But he said he thinks Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke supports the tribal bison program.

“I think this is something that, to my understanding, the Secretary wants to have happen, we want to have happen, APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) wants to have happen and the states do and the tribes do. So I think we’re going to get there,” said Wenk.

The program only needs a few signatures and then tribes can receive wild genetically pure bison onto their reservations starting next fall. Wenk said he has confidence the program will go forward, with or without him.

“If it’s decided that I have to leave Yellowstone before then,” he said, “there’s people in Yellowstone National Park that know this issue extremely well and will work with the next superintendent and I think it will happen in any event.”

But Blackfeet Member Ervin Carlson, President of the Intertribal Buffalo Council, is suspicious about the timing of Wenk’s removal.

“Why is Dan being removed now all of a sudden when we’re so close to making things happen to be able to go to a tribal facility?” Carlson asked.

He’s worried Wenk's replacement won’t have the will to carry it through.

“Educating the new guy as to what we’ve been doing and seeing if he’s going to go forward with it and if he’s friendly to that,” he said. “Or has he been given orders to do something else?”

Supervisor Wenk said he believes he can get the signatures needed to finish the job in his final few weeks at Yellowstone.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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