Dan Wenk

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk says he’s being forced out as a “punitive action” following disagreements with the Trump administration over how many bison the park can sustain.

The top official at Yellowstone National Park is among seven high-ranking National Park Service officials who could be assigned to new jobs in a potential management shakeup.

The proposal, which was first reported by the Washington Post, would send Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk to Washington, D.C., to oversee the National Capital Region of the Park Service. The director of the Park Service’s Midwest Region would replace Wenk.

The transfers are not official and have not been confirmed publicly by the Park Service or the Interior Department. Heather Swift, an Interior spokeswoman, said in an email Monday that they have “no announcements on new personnel at this time.”

News of the potential moves came as a surprise to conservationists and others in the region around Yellowstone, where Wenk has worked since 2011.

“It did come as a shock,” said Scott Christensen, conservation director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “It kind of follows this pattern that we’ve been seeing at the Department of Interior of these very arbitrary and not very well thought out reassignments.”

The department was criticized last year for the reassignment of 35 senior employees to new jobs, a move critics claimed was politically motivated. The department’s Office of Inspector General released a report earlier this month that said agency leaders had failed to document the reasoning behind the changes.

This latest proposal also involves senior employees, members of what’s formally known as the Senior Executive Service. Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), said the previous round of reassignments hadn’t involved officials within the National Park Service.

He said it’s “now the Park Service’s turn in the barrel.”

Ruch said PEER believes acting National Park Service Director Danny Smith called the six people involved and informed them of the impending transfers. Ruch added that the employees must either accept such transfers or be removed from federal service.

“There doesn’t appear to be any efficiency of service,” Ruch said. “Second, we would expect most of these people would retire rather than accept new positions.”

Before taking over at Yellowstone, Wenk was the National Park Service’s deputy director of operations in Washington, D.C. His career started in Yellowstone in the 1970s, when he was working as a landscape architect. He was also the superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Monument.

Christensen said Wenk has been “a strong leader” on a variety of issues during his seven years in Yellowstone, including the management of bison and grizzly bears and the restoration of native trout.

“If the rumors prove true, those of us who worked on protecting the park will certainly have lost an important leader,” Christensen said. “Not just for conservation in Yellowstone, but in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

The other employees rumored to be on the move are Alaska Region Director Herbert Frost; Lake Mead National Recreation Area Superintendent Lizette Richardson; Biscayne National Park Superintendent Margaret Goodro; National Capital Region Director Robert Vogel; Intermountain Region Director Sue Masica; and Midwest Region Director Cameron Sholly.

Should the realignment happen, Sholly would be the one expected to take the helm at Yellowstone. Alexandra Picavet, a Midwest Region spokeswoman, said Sholly has been the Midwest Region director since 2015. He was previously the chief ranger at Yosemite National Park and superintendent of Natchez Trace Parkway, headquartered in Mississippi.

Sholly’s first job with the Park Service was as a seasonal maintenance worker in Yellowstone.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.