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Biden to nominate first tribal member to lead National Park Service

Biden to nominate first tribal member to lead National Park Service

Bighorn rams rest on tundra near Trail Ridge Road in 2013 in Rocky Mountain National Park. (U.S. National Park Service)

President Joe Biden plans to nominate the first enrolled tribal member to head up the National Park Service — Oregon conservationist Charles F. Sams III, the White House announced Wednesday.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he would be the first full-time director since Jonathan B. Jarvis left the job at the end of the Obama administration.

Sams is an enrolled member of the Cayuse and Walla Walla, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeast Oregon. He would be the first enrolled tribal member at the helm of the nation’s park agency in its 105-year history, according to an Interior Department spokeswoman.

The National Park Service manages 423 park sites comprising 84 million acres in every state and some territories. Colorado is home to four national parks — Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park — as well as other properties such as historic sites and monuments.

If confirmed, overcrowding would be among the top issues for Sams. 

Some of the 63 national parks saw record attendance last year. The popularity is expected to continue, with U.S. senators predicting 2021 would be the busiest year ever for the parks.

That popularity comes with challenges around how to manage overcrowding. Some parks, such as Rocky Mountain National Park, have instituted ticketed-entry systems, and lawmakers are exploring that approach and others.

Sams is a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a group that develops regional energy plans and fish and wildlife programs for Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, appointed Sams, who began on the council in March.

Sams has also worked as communications director, deputy executive director and interim director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

He is a Navy veteran and holds a master of legal studies degree in Indigenous Peoples law from the University of Oklahoma, the White House said. He has worked in conservation and natural resources management nonprofits for 25 years.

Sams would report to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is the first Native American person to hold that role.

“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 release.

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