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Chuck Sams Is the National Park Service’s First Native Director in its 105-Year History

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The Senate unanimously confirmed Chuck F. Sams III as director of the National Park Service on Thursday night, making him the first Native person to hold the post in the agency’s 105-year history.

Sams, a member of the Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, is a Navy veteran. He is also the former leader of several environmental nonprofits and most recently served on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, an interstate group in the Pacific Northwest working to create a master electrical and environmental plan for the region. He is the NPS’s first confirmed director since January 2017, when Jonathan Jarvis, an Obama appointee, resigned the post. As director of the agency, he will report directly to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who, as an enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo, is the first Native cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

The Trump administration never nominated a permanent head for the NPS, instead filling the position with a rotating cast of acting directors mostly drawn from agency and Interior Department veterans. Unlike Haaland’s, Sams’s nomination was largely uncontroversial, sparking little public debate and passing via a voice vote in the Senate.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) brought Sams’s nomination to the Senate floor, hailing the new director’s confirmation.

“Chuck Sams is the right nominee to lead the National Park Service as it addresses these challenges,” Wyden said. “I know Chuck. He is hardworking. He is committed. Chuck is a role model in the stewardship of American land and waters, wildlife and history. And now thanks to the Senate’s unanimous decision to confirm his nomination, Congress and park-goers will have someone steady and experienced to rely on in the years ahead.”

Sams inherits a national park system that’s been rocked by the direct and indirect effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. While overall park visitation decreased 26% in 2020 due to closures, 15 parks set new visitation records, and a handful, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Yosemite, and Zion, implemented timed reservation systems to manage crowds.