WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s choice to lead the National Park Service told a U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday that he would work to replenish the agency’s workforce, which has declined even as attendance at the park has fallen. new records.
Charles F. Sams III of Oregon would be the first registered tribal member to lead the National Park Service. He is a registered member of the Confederate Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
If accepted by the entire Senate, he would also be the first confirmed leader of the National Park Service since January 2017.
He faced members of the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, who asked him for his commitment to improving specific parks and other NPS sites in their states.
National Parks Service faces workforce issues as usage hits record highs
Sams highlighted the challenges of the National Park Service workforce. The parks service workforce is down from its peak, he said, while attendance has increased.
An agency webpage shows permanent employment in 2020 was about 6% lower than it was in 2010. Sams said the parks service workforce has shrunk by 20% compared to “several years ago”.
Attendance at the park has increased from 327 million in 2019 to 237 million in 2020, with severe COVID-19 restrictions limiting travel. But as outdoor recreation has become a safe alternative to other travel options, some parks, including Yellowstone, have set monthly attendance records this year.
Sams said he would work to increase the workforce and improve morale, including adding housing. He also said he would prioritize recruiting to increase staff.
“The National Park Service cannot accomplish its mission without a well-supported workforce, and I am committed to focusing on supporting that mission,” he said. “Housing, staffing and other issues have an impact on morale and deserve active attention. “
Sams told President Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) he would prioritize staffing and the deferred maintenance backlog of around $ 12 billion.
Sams also said he would work to improve federal relations with the tribes, saying they should expect an open conversation with the federal government before the decision is made, “not after the fact.”
Sams is a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a post he was appointed to by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. He has also worked as the Executive Director of the Confederate Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and in other roles in tribal and state governments and nonprofit tribal and conservation groups.
Manchin said he expected Sams to take office “very quickly”.
Senators present plans, identify issues for Sams to address
Republicans on the panel did not raise any major objections to Sams, although Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming said he was concerned Sams had never worked for the parks service.
Other committee members have asked Sams to commit to resolving issues at their states’ NPS sites.
Sams told U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.) He knew some NPS employees in Montana were driving more than 50 miles to their gas stations and was again committed to improving options. housing for park employees.
Barrasso asked Sams to review the $ 563 million maintenance backlog at Yellowstone National Park and the $ 181 million backlog at Grand Teton National Park.
New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich said a lack of fencing allowed cattle to enter the Valley Caldera National Preserve, disrupting wetlands, subalpine grasslands and elk populations.
Sams told U.S. Senator Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) that the NPS could use funding from the Great American Outdoor Act, a law passed last year that provides additional funding to national parks, to tailor boat ramps. to the water of Lake Mead at lower waters. levels.
Sams got the backing of his home state senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, who fielded the candidate on Tuesday. Wyden called Sams a “true leader and role model” for stewardship and conservation.
“I can’t think of anyone in America better and more qualified to do this than Chuck Sams, with his unique perspective as the first Native American to lead the parks service,” Wyden said. “It’s, frankly, long overdue.”