Yellowstone gets new superintendent

  • Bob Barbee during the 1988 fires

    Randy Hayes

In a shuffle of top national park managers, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Bob Barbee in late May found himself reassigned to the job of director in the agency's Alaska region.

Barbee, who had presided over Yellowstone for 11 years, had just finished building a house near Bozeman, Mont. As superintendent of one of the most visible parks, he had recently been promoted into the ranks of the federal Senior Executive Service, an elite cadre of federal managers who can be moved to new jobs at will.

"There's always tensions and there's always controversy, but when it's all said and done, this is one of the special places in the world, so leaving here is not going to be easy," Barbee said.

National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy ordered Michael Finley, superintendent of Yosemite National Park in California, to replace Barbee by October. Finley had recently served as the Park Service's acting associate director of operations and is widely considered a personable and strong park manager.

Kennedy also named a new superintendent for Glacier National Park and made several new administrative appointments in the agency, explaining that the shifts were designed to improve diversity in the highest ranks.

Many observers had expected Barbee to be eased out after he took a beating in national debate over the 1988 fires. But he remained in Yellowstone, where he developed a love-hate relationship with local environmentalists. While many groups praised him for standing up for the ecological role of natural fires, they also criticized his refusal to restrict the use of tourist facilities in areas heavily used by grizzly bears, a threatened species, and the park's slow progress in dealing with ballooning winter visitation.

The writer works for the Billings Gazette in Billings, Montana.