There was some shuffling of jobs in the National Park Service this month. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced that he selected Michael Reynolds to be the superintendent of Yosemite National Park in California. Yosemite has been without a permanent superintendent since September 2016 when Don Neubacher resigned amid allegations of gender bias and creating a hostile work environment.
Reynolds, a 31-year NPS veteran and third-generation NPS employee, grew up in Yosemite and later returned to the park as a resource manager, planner, and division chief. He will assume the park’s top post in early March.
Reynolds has served in Washington, D.C., as the deputy director for operations of the NPS since 2016, but spent the majority of that time serving as NPS acting director. He filled the spot vacated when Jonathan Jarvis retired in January 2017, but the tenure of an acting chief is time-limited by federal rules, so in lieu of a presidential appointment to the post, Reynolds was reassigned to California.
But why wouldn’t Reynolds, with such a stellar NPS resume, be nominated to the position of director? Perhaps it has something to do with Trump’s inauguration and the NPS photographs that were widely circulated that directly disputed Trump’s claim of record-breaking crowds.
On his first full day in office, Trump called Reynolds to challenge those photos and ordered him to produce additional photographs of the previous day’s crowds on the National Mall. Reynolds forwarded additional photos to the White House as requested.
Trump has claimed that up to 1.5 million people attended the inauguration at the Capitol and National Mall, but the Park Service photographs refute that although, in accordance with NPS policy, no crowd-size estimates were ever publicly reported by Park Service staff.
To date, President Trump has not nominated a permanent director to lead the Park Service, which has been without a Senate-confirmed leader for a year. Taking over in the acting director position vacated by Reynolds, Zinke named Paul Daniel (Dan) Smith to the post.
NPS Acting Director
Smith has been retired since 2014. And there is a blemish on his record of service.
In 2004, Smith was reprimanded for using his influence as assistant to then-parks director Fran Mainella to help Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins NFL team, cut down more than 100 trees near his Maryland mansion to improve the property’s view of the Potomac River. A federal inspector general’s report said Smith ignored federal environmental laws and pressured officials to sign off on the clear-cut.
Smith left his director’s assistant post that year and served the next 10 years as superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia.
The acting director of the NPS is responsible for overseeing 417 park sites and more than 20,000 employees while managing a budget of nearly $3 billion. The national parks attract more than 300 million visitors every year.
“Dan has a strong record of leadership in the National Park Service both in Washington and on the front lines as a superintendent of a park that tells the stories of some of the most consequential moments in American history,” said Secretary Zinke. “I can think of no one better equipped to help lead our efforts to ensure that the National Park Service is on firm footing to preserve and protect the most spectacular places in the United States for future generations.”
Most of NPS Advisory Council resigns
Nearly all members of the National Park Service Advisory Board resigned Monday, Jan. 15, in protest after they said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has repeatedly failed to meet with them.
Nine out of the 12 members of the board, which is responsible for advising the director of the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior on matters related to the preservation of natural and cultural resources, left their volunteer positions.
Board member and former Alaska governor Tony Knowles wrote in a resignation letter, published in the Washington Post, that he’s worried Zinke and the Department of Interior have neglected the park’s mission of “stewardship, protection and advancement of our National Parks.”
Zinke, who took office in March, has repeatedly refused to meet with the board, according to Knowles, which is required to convene twice a year.