NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, August 19th, 2021

Pacific Northwesterner chosen to lead the National Park Service by President Joe Biden

Charles F. Sams will become the first Native Amer­i­can to serve as direc­tor of the Nation­al Park Ser­vice, serv­ing under U.S. Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Deb Haa­land, her­self the first Native Amer­i­can to head the fed­er­al government’s largest land man­age­ment agency, if con­firmed by the Unit­ed States Senate.

Sams, an Ore­gon­ian, was nom­i­nat­ed Wednes­day by Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, one of the few Pacif­ic North­west­ern­ers to be tapped so far for posi­tions requir­ing the Sen­ate’s con­sent in the admin­is­tra­tion. He is the for­mer deputy exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Con­fed­er­at­ed Tribes of the Umatil­la Indi­an Reser­va­tion and present­ly a mem­ber of the North­west Pow­er and Con­ser­va­tion Council.

Portrait of NPS nominee Chuck Sams

Por­trait of NPS nom­i­nee Chuck Sams (Cour­tesy of Ore­gon Gov­er­nor Kate Brown’s office)

Wash­ing­ton has three nation­al parks (Olympic, Mount Rainier, North Cas­cades), Ore­gon one (Crater Lake) as well as such prop­er­ties as Lake Roo­sevelt Nation­al Recre­ation Area and the Whit­man Mis­sion Nation­al His­toric Site near Wal­la Wal­la. Ida­ho shares a few NPS units with Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon and has a few of its own, like Craters of the Moon Nation­al Monument.

Ore­gon Gov­er­nor Kate Brown, who named Sams to the Con­ser­va­tion Coun­cil, cheered the nom­i­na­tion, say­ing in a statement:

“I have worked close­ly with Chuck for many years and have wit­nessed first­hand his unpar­al­leled devo­tion and ser­vice to his tribe, our state and our nation. Per­haps most impor­tant­ly, Chuck is a pas­sion­ate stu­dent and teacher of the his­to­ry and cul­ture of our lands and people.”

As a trib­al offi­cial, Sams has been in the mid­dle of debate over that his­to­ry – name­ly the cen­tu­ry-old demo­niza­tion of tribes for the 1847 killings of mis­sion­ar­ies Mar­cus and Nar­cis­sa Whit­man. The Umatil­la Tribes have con­struct­ed a 45,000 square foot Tamast­slii Cul­tur­al Insti­tute that explains how white set­tle­ment robbed local tribes of their land and cir­cum­stances that led to the killings.

in In words of author Blaine Hard­en in his new book Mur­der at the Mis­sion: “A plac­ard inside the muse­um tells vis­i­tors why the Cayus­es decid­ed that Mar­cus Whit­man need­ed to die: ‘The head­men met in a coun­cil and made an agree­ment that the Doc­tor should be killed because two hun­dred of the peo­ple had died after tak­ing his medicine.”

After years of deifi­ca­tion of the Whit­mans, the Nation­al His­toric Site, in Harden’s words, “now offers vis­i­tors a nuanced and his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate account of the mur­ders at the mission.”

Wash­ing­ton’s Leg­is­la­ture recent­ly vot­ed to replace a stat­ue of Mar­cus Whit­man as the U.S. Capi­tol with a like­ness of Native Amer­i­can leader Bil­ly Frank, Jr.

“I think there’s already a deal in progress to give tribes co-con­trol of the Whit­man site,” Hard­en said Wednes­day night.

The Nation­al Park Sys­tem is America’s gift to the world, start­ing with cre­ation of Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park in 1872.

The crown jew­els of our nation’s pub­lic lands have nev­er been the pri­vate hunt­ing pre­serves of roy­al­ty, aris­toc­ra­cy or par­ty boss­es. Indeed, the Rock­e­feller fam­i­ly played a major role in cre­ation of Grand Teton and Aca­cia Nation­al Parks.

The Northwest’s nation­al parks are tak­ing on new recog­ni­tion and draw­ing new crowds. A nation­al sur­vey recent­ly ranked Olympic Nation­al Park as pre­mier unit in the sys­tem for its com­bi­na­tion of moun­tains, rain forests and wild ocean beach­es. The result: lines at the back­coun­try per­mit desk at the Port Ange­les vis­i­tor cen­ter. Reser­va­tions and per­mits are required at such fabled des­ti­na­tions as High Divide-Sev­en Lakes Basin.

Cli­mate dam­age is also tak­ing a toll.

Glac­i­ers are melt­ing at the epony­mous Glac­i­er Nation­al Park in Mon­tana, with the near dis­ap­pear­ance of such attrac­tions as Grin­nell Glac­i­er. Pop­u­lar Ander­son Glac­i­er in Olympic Nation­al Park has dis­ap­peared in the last quarter-century.

Vis­i­tors to Denali Nation­al Park in Alas­ka wit­ness “drunk­en forests” where the melt­ing of per­mafrost has caused trees to lean in dif­fer­ent directions.

The parks have been fierce­ly defend­ed. Gone are the days when Floyd E. Dominy, direc­tor of the U.S. Bureau of Recla­ma­tion, want­ed to build two dams in the Grand Canyon, one of which would have inun­dat­ed Lava Falls, the canyon’s great­est rapid. The Sier­ra Club ran a famous news­pa­per ad head­lined: “Would you flood the Sis­tine Chapel so tourists could get clos­er to the ceiling?”

Still, Sams will con­front devel­op­ment and com­mer­cial­iza­tion pres­sures, along with crowd­ing that has led to Full-Up signs at the entrances to nation­al parks in the South­west. The Nation­al Park Ser­vice has a big back­log of need­ed main­te­nance, which each suc­ces­sive admin­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. promis­es to address. Can­di­date George W. Bush used Mon­roe, Wash­ing­ton, in 2000 as site for a speech promis­ing more mon­ey for nation­al parks. Didn’t happen.

Some good projects have gone ahead since the turn of the cen­tu­ry, such as removal of two aged dams on the Elwha Riv­er, the Olympic Peninsula’s mas­ter stream, which blocked upstream fish migra­tion. Chi­nook salmon are now mak­ing their way past the site of the once two hun­dred and ten foot-high Glines Canyon Dam, and into sev­en­ty miles of reclaimed salmon spawn­ing habitat.

On the oth­er side of the Sal­ish Sea, wolves have migrat­ed south from Cana­da and repop­u­lat­ed the North Cas­cades Nation­al Park com­plex and sur­round­ing lands of the Pasayten and Chelan-Saw­tooth Wilder­ness Areas.

Griz­zly bears have staged a dra­mat­ic recov­ery in the Greater Yel­low­stone Ecosys­tem. The Trump regime nixed a griz­zly bear recov­ery project in the North Cas­cades, which ought to be back on the table.

Our nation­al parks have even wit­nessed nomen­cla­ture debates.

Mount Rainier is named after a British admi­ral who fought “the colonies” in the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War. Many would like to see a restora­tion of the moun­tain’s native name of Tahoma. After decades of resis­tance by the Ohio con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma act­ed to restore the native name “Denali” (the high one) to what had been Mount McKinley.

Active in a vari­ety of con­ser­va­tion caus­es, Charles Sams will have an over­rid­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty in his new job – stew­ard­ship. It is laid out in trib­al tra­di­tion, but also in mem­o­rable words spo­ken by Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt, who would go on to des­ig­nate the Grand Canyon a nation­al monument:

“Leave it as it is. You can­not improve it. Not a bit. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your chil­dren and your children’s chil­dren, and all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every Amer­i­can, if he is able, can see.”

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