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President Biden has nominated Chuck Sams, a former administrator of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, to be the first official head of the National Park Service since 2017.
Sams, a Navy veteran and former adjunct professor at Georgetown University and Whitman College who has also led several conservation nonprofits, currently serves on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a regional group established to create a master power plan for four northwestern states and balance it with fish and wildlife’s needs. If confirmed, Sams, an enrolled member of the Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes, would be the 19th director of the NPS and the first Native person to fill the role, and would report directly to Deb Haaland, a former New Mexican congressperson and, as a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, the first Native secretary of the interior.
“The diverse experience that Chuck brings to the National Park Service will be an incredible asset as we work to conserve and protect our national parks to make them more accessible for everyone,” Haaland said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him to welcome Americans from every corner of our country into our national park system.”
Reached by email, Sams directed Backpacker to the Department of the Interior, which declined through a spokesperson to make him available for interviews until after his nomination process.
The role of director of the National Park Service has technically been vacant since January 3, 2017, when Obama nominee Jonathan Jarvis retired. Rather than nominating a replacement, former President Donald Trump’s Interior Department filled the seat with a rotating cast of acting directors, each of whom served for a matter of months.
Oregon Governor Katie Brown, who appointed Sams to the NPCC this year, praised his nomination.
“Chuck Sams is among Oregon’s finest, and I can’t think of a better person for the important role of National Park Service Director,” Brown said. “I have worked closely with Chuck for many years, and have witnessed firsthand his unparalleled devotion and service to his Tribe, our state, and our nation.”
As director of the National Park Service, Sams would inherit an agency dealing with record-high visitation numbers—in July, for example, Yellowstone saw 1 million visitors, a first for the park—as well as perennial budget shortfalls. While the Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law last year, earmarked $1.3 billion per year for five years to fund national parks’ projects, that alone won’t be enough to cover the agency’s deferred maintenance bill, which stood at about $11.9 billion as of last year.