Reassignments being forced upon National Park Service executives continue to cause early retirements, the latest being the employee tapped to take over the Intermountain regional office in Denver.

Lizette Richardson, superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, was recently asked to lead the agency’s Denver office, which oversees Yellowstone, Grand Teton and dozens of other national parks in eight states. But Richardson — like the regional director she was to replace, Sue Masica — rejected a transfer ordered by Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department, and will instead end a long career of working for the federal government.

“She notified her employees yesterday that she plans to retire,” Lake Mead spokeswoman Christie Vanover said.

Both of the options presented to Richardson — leading the Intermountain office or retiring — “she thought were fantastic,” Vanover said.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide broke the story Wednesday about Masica’s retirement, prompted by a rejected reassignment to the Park Service’s Midwestern regional office in Omaha, Nebraska. Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk is in the same camp and will retire in September after a distinguished 43-year career, rather than accept a transfer to Washington, D.C.

After being informed of his reassignment, Wenk announced he would instead retire in spring 2019. However, Acting Park Service Director Daniel Smith rejected that plan, telling Wenk he’d be out of a job by August if he didn’t take the reassignment, according to The Washington Post. The park has clarified that his last day will be Sept. 29.

Grand Teton National Park’s superintendent, David Vela, is rumored to be on his way out, though not because of an involuntary reassignment. National news media reported this month that Vela is the Trump administration’s pick to direct the National Park Service, a post that’s been vacated since Jon Jarvis stepped down in January 2017.

Richardson, Masica, Wenk and Vela are in the Park Service’s Senior Executive Service, the agency’s uppermost echelon. The high-profile officials are paid at least $185,000, but they can be moved with 60 days’ notice without explanation.

Jarvis has been critical of how the Interior Department has handled the Park Service’s executive shake-up.

“There’s no sort of logical good for the Park Service or the government here,” Jarvis told the News&Guide this week. “Moving them out of their current jobs really doesn’t make any management sense. I think it’s just a power play on the part of the [Interior] department to say that they’re in charge.”

The reassignments reportedly included at least seven executives, but they have been neither publicized nor explained. They were instead leaked to The Washington Post.

The shuffle outlined by The Post sends Midwestern Regional Director Cameron “Cam” Sholly west to Wyoming to lead Yellowstone. Wenk, Masica and Richardson — the three other reassigned Park Service officials with ties, or prospective ties, to northwest Wyoming’s parks — are all opting to retire.

Richardson has been superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area since 2015, and she’ll step away after 28 years of federal government employment. Her retirement date has not been determined, Vanover said.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067, env@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGenviro.

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(6) comments

Kenneth Barrick

While the Yellowstone superintendent was playing victim all over the national news because he was being transferred to another park, his core/noncore pilot project was price gouging hundreds of thousands of Americans in the iconic Yellowstone hotels. Meanwhile the out houses at prime destinations in Yellowstone are covered in Third World squalor and filth by the end of the day. Meanwhile the canyon village is being turned into little Chinatown while American menu items are replaced with Chinese Mandarin menu items, and Asian style squatter toilets are replacing American-style toilets which are already in short supply prime destinations. Mass foreign tourism continues to destroy the traditional American park experience all over the western parks and NPS’s response is to accommodate it. The Yellowstone superintendent should be glad he wasn’t terminated as his legacy hotel price gouging scheme will be.

Rick Mulligan

A crying shame. It's the Sect of the Interior (and "president" of the US) that should step down. Or be removed....

Noah Osnos

The reassignments are part of the current administration's philosophy of chaos and destruction, rather than addressing actual problems with genuine focus on the processes that would be brought to bear to improve anything. Those who have any concern for their children's future should be worried.

Ken Chison

We were worried Noah. That's why we elected Trump! I don't know how we didn't end up with the transgender Asian toilets. That would have really left a legacy

Eugene Kiedrowski

Or be removed... Along with the rest of the clowns and the Great Pumpkin too. Best option for the country.

Ken Chison

It definitely is Eugene. All these people that are retiring were way too liberal to be running these parks. The parks need to be returned to the American citizen and not made to accommodate all the foreign tourists

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