Biden picks first Native American for parks post

Charles F. Sams III is a former tribal executive with experience in conservation management

President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday. The White House announced he would nominate Charles F. Sams to lead the National Park Service.  (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday. The White House announced he would nominate Charles F. Sams to lead the National Park Service. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Posted August 18, 2021 at 6:10pm

The White House said President Joe Biden would nominate Charles F. Sams III to be director of the National Park Service, moving to fill a post that has gone without a Senate-confirmed leader since 2017.

Sams has a background in conservation management, has worked in state and tribal governments for more than 25 years and served in the U.S. Navy, the White House said Wednesday.

“I look forward to working with him to welcome Americans from every corner of our country into our national park system,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “The outdoors are for everyone, and we have an obligation to protect them for generations to come.”

A member and former executive director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in Oregon, where he lives, Sams would be the first director of the agency to be an enrolled member of a Native American tribe, Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, pushed Biden to pick Sams for the park service job after appointing Sams in March to a seat on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, an interstate agency Congress created with a 1980 law to oversee wildlife and water issues in the Columbia River Basin.

Chief among Sams’ likely priorities would be administering funding approved under a bipartisan public lands bill that became law last Congress. That law authorized spending up to $1.9 billion a year in maintenance for the parks.

The role of director languished under the Trump administration, which relied on a series of acting directors and never submitted an official nominee. Sams would take the post at a time of low staff morale, with the delay in a confirmed leader causing a carryover in policies from the previous administration.

“Never in the 104-year history of the NPS has the agency gone through an entire administration without a permanent director,” Paul Anderson, president of the Association of National Park Rangers, wrote last year to the Biden transition team.

The last person the Senate confirmed to be director of the parks service was Jonathan Jarvis, who was confirmed by voice vote in 2009 and served until January 2017.

Sams is a former adjunct professor at Georgetown University and Whitman College, according to the biography the White House distributed.