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Senate confirms first tribal member in history to lead National Park Service

Alex Stillson
Two cyclists stand next to their bikes along a river while looking at snow-covered mountains in distance along the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier National Park. (Courtesy of Alex Stillson/National Park Service)

The U.S. Senate approved by voice vote late Thursday the nomination of Charles F. Sams III as the first confirmed National Park Service director since 2017. Sams, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton, Ore., will be the first tribal member to lead the Park Service in the agency’s 105-year history.

Charles F. Sams III, an Oregonian who would be the first enrolled tribal member to be National Parks Service director, cleared another hurdle in the U.S. Senate’s nomination process. (Courtesy of the state of Oregon)

At his confirmation hearing, Sams said he would work to rebuild the Park Service workforce and improve morale. The Park Service was without a confirmed director for all of Donald Trump’s presidency. The agency manages 423 sites, including 63 national parks, that see hundreds of millions of annual visits across all 50 states.

Senators at the hearing praised Sams’ background and work in tribal government and nonprofits, but some raised concerns about his lack of experience in the Park Service.

Still, no senators from either party objected to his confirmation either at the committee vote earlier this month or on the floor Thursday.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, appointed Sams to the regional Northwest Power and Conservation Council earlier this year. She also recommended Sams for the Park Service position.

In a statement, Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), said Sams was the “right nominee” to lead the park service.

“Chuck is a role model in the stewardship of American land and waters, wildlife and history,” Wyden said. “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 also won praise from moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. Manchin chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that oversees the Park Service.

Sams “will bring an important perspective to the NPS,” Manchin said in a Friday statement. “I look forward to working with him to ensure our iconic national parks are protected for generations to come.”