Senate Makes Historic National Park Service Director Confirmation
Charles Sams III is the first confirmed leader in four years and the first-ever Indigenous American to lead the agency.
The Senate confirmed President Biden’s pick to lead the National Park Service on Thursday night, making him the first confirmed leader in four years and the first-ever Indigenous American to lead the agency.
Biden over the summer announced his nomination of Charles Sams III, most recently a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which promotes reliable energy systems and fish and wildlife programs in the Columbia River Basin. The Senate approved Sams by voice vote on Thursday night for the NPS director position, which was filled by a series of acting leaders under the Trump administration. The last permanent director of the Park Service was Jonathan Jarvis, who served during the Obama administration, from October 2, 2009, to January 3, 2017.
Sams held a variety of roles with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, served as president and CEO of Indian Country Conservancy, executive director for the Umatilla Tribal Community Foundation, national director of the Tribal & Native Lands Program for the Trust for Public Land, executive director for the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, executive director for the Community Energy Project and president and CEO for the Earth Conservation Corps. He also worked as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and Whitman College and is a veteran of the Navy.
“We are relieved to finally have a Senate-confirmed director of the National Park Service in place,” said Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, which represents current, former and retired NPS employees. “The NPS has a long and storied history, but recent challenges, including declining employee morale and underfunding, have been worsened by the lack of a Senate-confirmed and permanent director to lead the agency.”
Athan Manuel, director of Sierra Club's Lands Protection Program, said in a statement, “This confirmation comes just in time, as public lands and waters play a key role in taking on the overlapping challenges of the climate crisis, biodiversity crisis and nature equity crisis.”
The National Park Foundation also applauded the confirmation.
“As an Umatilla Tribal Citizen and the first Native American to lead the agency responsible for managing more than 420 park sites across the country, Director Sams brings extensive knowledge and experience working with state and local agencies, Tribal governments and nonprofit organizations, and deep appreciation for the many communities connected to and affected by our national parks,” Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the foundation, said.
Mary Kaszynski, director of government relations at the Vet Voice Foundation, said, "We look forward to continuing to work with President Biden, [Interior Secretary Deb Haaland], and Director Sams to amplify the voices of veterans and military families in policy debates, particularly those related to environmental conservation and stewardship."
NPS, a division of the Interior Department, had 22,260 employees, according to the most recently available data from the Office of Personnel Management. In addition, senior executives who manage national programs, budget and policies and then seven regional directors are responsible for management of the national parks nationwide and implementation of programs, NPS’s website notes.
Issues NPS has faced internally and externally over the past four years include: park overcrowding, employees feeling abused and harassed, handling of protests in summer 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic.