Acting National Park Service Director announces abrupt retirement

David Vela is leaving the Park Service after more than 30 years.

Trump's nomination for NPS superintendent; david vela
David Vela has retired from the National Park Service after more than 30 years.National Park Service

On Friday, Acting National Park Service Director David Vela announced abruptly that he would depart his role as de facto head of the NPS and retire. He will be replaced by principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Margaret Everson.

Vela was the third acting director to head the NPS under president Trump. Though he was nominated to the post in 2018, the nomination was never confirmed—an irregularity that has faced legal challenges for violating the Constitution’s “advice and consent” clause. Before Vela, NPS veteran Mike Reynolds served as the agency’s acting director through 2017, followed by P. Daniel Smith, who served as acting director through October 2019.

“With the support of my wife of 40 years and my family, I have decided that it is time to hang up my flat hat for the last time within the month. In the coming days, Margaret Everson will be exercising the authority of the director while I finish several projects I am working on with Shawn Benge,” Vela wrote in an email today announcing his retirement.

The departure has been met with shock and has drawn some criticism from groups like Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.

In a statement today, National Parks and Conservation Association president and CEO Theresa Pierno highlighted the disorder within the NPS over the last three years and called for a permanent leader to step in, confirmed by the U.S. Senate. 

“Without a permanent, emboldened director, there’s no one to speak for our parks and park staff. And it’s our parks and public lands, and all who visit them that pay the price,” said Pierno. “Our national park rangers, and the American people, deserve nothing less than a fully empowered leader approved by Congress to perform his or her duties to ensure the best protection and future for our national parks.”