Energy & Environment

Senate appears poised to advance first Native American to lead National Park Service

Nominee to be Director of the National Park Service Charles Sams III is sworn in during his Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee nomination hearing on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.
Greg Nash

The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee appeared poised to advance the nomination of the National Park Service’s first Native American director, and the agency’s first permanent director in four years, at a hearing Tuesday.

Charles Sams, President Biden’s nominee for the position, emphasized the urgent need to address staffing shortfalls at NPS.

“The National Park Service cannot achieve its mission without a well-supported workforce, and I am committed to focusing on the caretakers of this mission. Staffing, housing, and other issues are impacting morale and deserve our active attention,” Sams said.

Permanent employees at NPS declined about 6 percent over the last decade, according to data from the agency. In the meantime, however, attendance at national parks has spiked as pandemic restrictions are gradually lifted, particularly for outdoor activities.

Sams also said he would emphasize tribal outreach and a “spirit of consultation” as director.

“In Indian Country, we expect an open discussion with the federal government prior to making a decision, not after the fact,” he said. “If confirmed, I will bring this spirit of consultation to my service as Director.  I look forward to consulting with neighboring communities, stakeholders, local, state and Tribal governments, and Members of Congress, even when the conversations and topics are challenging.”

The last permanent NPS director confirmed to the position was Jonathan Jarvis, who was sworn in in October 2009 and served for the remainder of the Obama presidency.

Also before the committee Tuesday were Brad Crabtree, nominated for assistant secretary of Energy, and Willie Phillips, nominated to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The panel has not yet set a date for the vote on the nominees.

The hearing was largely without controversy or aggressive questioning, in contrast with recent confirmation hearings for Tracy Stone-Manning, now head of the Bureau of Land Management. In the early 1990s, Stone-Manning admitted to mailing a letter written by another environmental activist warning of tree-spiking, a form of sabotage meant to prevent logging.

Every Republican on the panel opposed Stone-Manning’s nomination, and ranking member Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) seemingly alluded to it Tuesday, asking all three nominees if they had ever “collaborated with an organization that uses violence against fellow Americans.” All three answered in the negative.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) also mentioned his concerns with Sams’ lack of experience working directly for the NPS, asking him to “[c]onvince me that you’re ready to take on this challenge having had no experience as a park ranger, or a park manager, or otherwise involved in the National Park Service.”

In response, Sams cited his experience working on public lands issues in Oregon and committed to staffing the NPS with people experienced in national parks matters. King ultimately told Sams he intended to support his nomination.

Tags Angus King Joe Biden John Barrasso National Park Service national parks
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