Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs, MT
The first thing Dan Wenk asks of us when we arrive at our meeting point within the Yellowstone National Park administration buildings at Mammoth Hot Springs is to sit down with him. Sitting on damp, elk scat-covered grass petting his lab Juno, it is difficult to imagine this man as the highest-ranking official in Yellowstone. But the passion he speaks with for not only the ingenuity of the park but also for the incredible conservation efforts that have taken place, makes it clear he is the man in charge.
Wenk has worked tirelessly to form the world’s first national park into more than a tourist destination. He is a champion for bison protection and has put them along with other controversial animals such as wolves at the forefront of the Yellowstone identity. The most common and least understood species here, though, will always be Homo sapiens.
“For those interested in public lands management and what we do and why, Yellowstone is…” he trails off searching for the words “… it’s complicated” he finished. And complicated it is. Balancing the needs of grizzly bears, wolves, elk, bison, tourism and conservation is by no means an easy job. One of the most complicating aspect is the challenge of managing an ecological island within a land that does not have the same conservation mindset as Wenk. The wild animals he has been tasked to manage do not obey the borders the surrounding communities do and they often do not live long enough to make it back into the park.
As if on cue, a huge bull elk bugles from across the street where it has been casually meandering its way across the fields of manicured lawns and asphalt. The tourists itching to get closer look are being controlled by a ranger in an orange vest. Proof of the big job Wenk has of managing not only the wildlife but also the people who come to it.
By Eliza Van Wetter