CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Defenders of America’s national parks are sounding the alarm after last week’s dismissal of Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk, and they warn more dominoes are likely to fall as Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department roots out staff members who are committed to conservation.
Phil Francis, who chairs the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, says the nation’s parks and visitors will end up paying the biggest price, as more staff members are either forced out or choose to leave on their own.
“And when they leave the service, they take with them an enormous amount of experience, an enormous amount of institutional memory,” Francis states. “These parks are complex. These parks are difficult to manage, in many cases.”
Less than a year before his announced retirement after four decades of service, Wenk was told to accept a new position in Washington, D.C. or resign.
A recent Inspector General’s investigation into 35 Interior Department transfers found no clear justification.
In an e-mail, an agency representative noted moves are made to better serve the department, adding that senior executives signed up knowing they could be called upon to work in different positions at any time.
Francis says transferring senior staff for no reason isn’t good management, and he worries the moves will have a chilling effect – a signal that if staff members don’t go along with Zinke’s political agenda, their jobs could be at risk.
Affecting morale that’s already low in an agency being asked to do more with less, Francis says Wenk’s dismissal will also make it harder to recruit strong candidates.
“Maybe people will be less likely to apply for jobs, if they think that there’s going to be political consequences to their decisions, as opposed to adhering to the National Park Service policy and the law by which we’re supposed to manage these parks,” he states.
At a time when park visitation is at an all-time high, the Trump administration’s proposed 2019 budget would cut 2,000 full-time National Park Service positions, bringing the staff loss to over 4,000 in the last six years.
Parks also face more than $12 billion in overdue infrastructure repairs.