Eye On Washington: Bold Appointments to Key Federal Conservation Agencies

Dan Sealy, NEC Legislative Analyst

Charles Sams III, Director, National Park Service

Charles F. Sams III was recently nominated for the position of director of the National Park Service. (Photo state of Oregon)

President Biden nominated Charles “Chuck” Sams III as the first Native American Director of the National Park Service (NPS). Mr. Sams, who is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, has a resume that includes Executive and Deputy Director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and councilmember of the Pacific Northwest Power and Conservation Council which conducts planning for the Columbia River basin. He has also been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and Whitman College. His nomination at first seemed an unlikely choice, since he was the first candidate after Congress required Senate confirmation of the NPS Director who had not been in a position of state or national park management. However, after Mr. Sams met individually with members of the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which held a hearing to listen to Mr. Sams explain his priorities and background (including land management) and answer questions, his confirmation seems certain. Mr. Sams’ final confirmation and swearing-in dates have not been announced yet.

The NPS has not had a confirmed Director for over five years. The last administration chose to use devices which dodged public and congressional scrutiny and ultimately put many decisions in jeopardy. Mr. Sams will lead the National Park Service’s 20,000 employees and 200,000 volunteers, administering 423 areas that cover more than 85 million acres including parks, recreation areas, historic sites, national battlefields, monuments and preserves as well as community-driven programs such as trail planning, the Register of National Historic Places and heritage areas. In recognition of issues of recent sexual harassment accusations within the employee ranks, especially in Grand Canyon National Park, Mr. Sams said he would take “a zero-tolerance approach” to employee harassment and would work to improve staff morale if confirmed. The Senate committee took the hearing as an opportunity to raise concerns about using dedicated funds for much-needed infrastructure improvements and the need to solve the chronic understaffing the NPS has experienced for decades, especially during a time of dramatic increase in visitation to NPS sites across the nation.

Ms. Tracy Stone-Manning, Director, US Bureau of Land Management

Ms. Tracy Stone-Manning. Source: blm.gov

President Biden’s nomination of Ms. Stone-Manning immediately stirred controversy not because of the nominee’s qualifications, but because of her admitted role in the 1989 tree-spiking in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest to prevent logging. Tree-spiking refers to hammering metal spikes into trees which, if then cut with a chainsaw, can cause injury and death to loggers. Ms. Stone-Manning’s “crime,” to which she pleaded guilty in court, was to anonymously mail a letter from one of the tree-spikers notifying the forest managers in advance of the placement of spikes. Neither the letter nor Stone-Manning’s testimony in court divulged the names of people who placed the spikes nor the tree locations. As the trial moved toward conviction of two men, Ms. Stone-Manning received immunity for her testimony.

When some members of the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee saw an opportunity to seize upon her early history of activism, referring to her as an “eco-terrorist,” her champions, moderate Democrat Senator Tester (D-MT) and even Senator Manchin (D-WV) who has not always been aligned with the President’s agenda, scolded those Senators for character assassination. Senator Tester, who Stone -Manning worked for a decade ago, defended her record saying: “I worked with her. I know what she does. I know she can get the job done. She can bring people together of all political ilks. And she can do what’s best for the American people, in this case with our public lands.” Ms. Stone-Manning was sworn in as the new director on Oct. 27, 2021, by Sec. of the Interior Haaland (DOI) who welcomed her to the leadership team saying: “Tracy brings a wealth of knowledge in conservation and environmental policy to these efforts and a history of working with diverse communities in service to our public lands. I look forward to working with her to strengthen the bureau and advance Interior’s mission.” Haaland has also reversed the Trump Administration removal of the USBLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado, returning employees to D.C. but allowing the employees in Colorado to stay on in a “hub” office. Typically, those locational designations go away as employees move or retire. Stone-Manning will lead 9,500 agency employees who oversee approximately 245 million acres of surface lands and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral resources.