New Yellowstone leader won’t allow new position to be politicized

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It’s a tough way to get a job.

As Cameron “Cam” Sholly prepares to move to his new offices as director at Yellowstone National Park, some have suggested the move is being made under a dark cloud.

Sholly is replacing popular superintendent Dan Wenk, who’s been Yellowstone’s chief for seven years. Wenk has said he was punitively forced out after disagreements with the Trump administration. Wenk opted to retire in August rather than accept a move to Washington, D.C., for a new position with the National Park Service.

Sholly, a long-time friend and past employee of Wenk’s, is refusing to allow the situation to bring him down. He’s also quick to dismiss his promotion as a political move, promising not to allow the position to be politicized.

“I think it’s important for us to manage these parks apolitically. Just like in the military, we take great pride in serving all Americans and protecting these incredible places and stories. The parks are important to everyone. What we don’t want is for them to be driven by politics,” Sholly said in a Wednesday phone interview from his Omaha office. “[Parks] transcend politics. We’ve done an excellent job in this country in creating the best national park system in the world. And we’ve done that through our ability to manage apolitically.”

He has said differences between Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Wenk have not been discussed in the transition, nor have any specific policies.

“My experience with the current administration has been very good to this point. We have good dialogue and we look for solutions that work and are in the best interest of the parks,” he said.

Sholly has led the Park Service’s Midwest Region as director since 2015, which included two years under the Obama administration. Sholly said he had a great working relationship with the previous administration.

“Each [Secretary of the Interior] has different styles and different approaches, but I’ve found good balance and good ways of working with all of them,” he said.

He hopes to take the reins in late October.

Sholly and Wenk remain friends and talk often.

“[Dan Wenk and I] have communicated substantially throughout this transition. We’ve talked recently and are laying out a plan for a smooth transition. I feel very good about the future and that’s where I’m looking,” Sholly said.

He said Wenk has done “a tremendous job.”

“Our ability to discuss positions he took are really important going in, especially as I get started looking at issues with the team,” Sholly said. “I’m not a manager that goes in and just starts reversing course.”

Previously the chief ranger at Yosemite National Park and superintendent of Natchez Trace Parkway, Sholly’s first job in a national park was as a summer restaurant employee, flipping burgers during the summer while in high school. He later worked as a seasonal maintenance employee before joining the military.

Sholly served in both infantry and combat military police assignments with the U.S. Army. He was deployed to Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-91.

Sholly has a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University with curriculum concentrations in environmental economics and law and policy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in management from St. Mary’s College of California, and is a graduate of the Harvard University Senior Executive Fellows Program.

Sholly has been running 61 Midwest park properties from offices on the Missouri River in Omaha, overseeing thousands of service employees. He’s looking forward to move back to managing one park.

“Being a superintendent is the best job in the National Park system,” Sholly said.

He’ll get no argument on the point as he heads to Yellowstone, considered to be the second-best job in the service — placing just below director of the system.

“You’re a lot closer to the issues there. You can see the results to a lot of your decisions faster and easier than you can when working in regional or Washington [D.C.] positions,” he said.

That’s not to say he hasn’t enjoyed his work in Omaha. He called the position a privilege and enjoyed working with the park properties in the Midwest. But it was challenging, he said.

“With thousands of employees and 61 parks, its been a real challenge from a time management and prioritization perspective,” Sholly said. “But when you look at a park like Yellowstone, the issues are very big and it’s a big operation. It will have a substantial amount of challenges.”

Sholly said he has a lot of loose ends that need his attention in Omaha — and he refuses to talk about policy within Yellowstone until he’s at his new desk.

Sholly did say he’s ready to attack issues related to invasive species.

“We will continue to take appropriate and aggressive actions against non-native species, whether that be non-native fish or vegetation,” he said.

He’s also looking forward to working with partners and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Trout Unlimited.

“We’ll partner with anyone who shares common values, goals, and objectives,” Sholly said. “I have immense respect for the work that Trout Unlimited has done on native fish conservation and look forward to working with them. They’re an example of an NGO with a clear alignment to many things we do in NPS.”

Sholly isn’t limiting partnerships to those who always agree with him; he said he’s coming to the new position with an open mind.

“I think it’s important to seek out partnerships where they may not be so obvious,” Sholly said. “Even people and organizations that have divergent opinions on issues can find common ground and partner in areas where there’s agreement. We can agree to disagree in certain areas; that shouldn’t prevent us from working together.”

Sholly will take a seat on the Yellowstone Grizzly Conservation Committee and will most certainly work with groups with divergent opinions, at least on grizzly policy. Wenk was a force on the committee, and the only vote against a memorandum of agreement between the three-state ecosystem that brought state management and grizzly hunting to the region.

Sholly is an avid fisherman, but not a hunter. He was unwilling to talk about his opinion on hunts for previously listed endangered species like wolves and grizzlies.

Sholly also wants to work closely with gateway communities and mentioned Powell in the mix, saying he wants to meet all gateway community leaders.

“I look forward to coming to Powell to meet with the community and getting a better understanding of how we can work together,” Sholly said.

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