The Senate confirmed Sams by voice vote on Thursday to lead the agency charged with preserving America’s national parks, monuments and historic sites.
The last confirmed director to permanently serve in the role was Jonathan Jarvis, who was nominated by President Barack Obama and retired in January 2017. NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge has been temporarily filling the role.
Sams is a Tribal member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, serving recently as its executive director. He is Cayuse and Walla Walla, with blood ties to the Yankton Sioux and Cocopah Peoples.
When the White House announced in August
its intent to nominate Sams as the head of the NPS, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland
, the US’ first Native American Cabinet secretary, said in a statement that the “diverse experience” Sams will bring to NPS “will be an incredible asset as we work to conserve and protect our national parks to make them more accessible for everyone.”
Although he has no prior experience working for NPS, Sams has spent years working in natural resource and conservation management and most recently sat on the Pacific Northwest Power and Conservation Council. He also served in the US Navy as an intelligence specialist.
Sams will step into the role as the NPS deals with challenges that include a maintenance backlog, overcrowding at parks
, understaffing, and problems with widespread sexual harassment and gender discrimination
In his October confirmation hearing, Sams said he has “always had a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and will bring that to this position if confirmed.”
He’ll oversee an agency of roughly 20,000 employees and more than 279,000 volunteers who care for more than 85 million acres of land across the US that include national parks, monuments and the White House.
“The National Park Service is a very special agency with a timeless mission: to preserve resources and to inspire current and future generations. I am excited to lead that mission,” Sams said back in October.