This week, National Park Service Director Chuck Sams made his first trip back to the Pacific Northwest since being sworn in as the first Native American to head the public lands agency.
Sams’ week-long tour included a visit to Bend, where he attended the governor’s annual tourism conference, then drove through Crater Lake, where he met with park officials. His trip ended Thursday with a visit to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Washington state. The former military base and fur trading site is the subject of a $15 million renovation funded by the Great American Outdoors Act of 2020.
Since being sworn in, Sams has advocated for tribal co-management of federal lands. During his tour, he noted that Fort Vancouver Park works closely with local tribes, making it one of many examples in the Pacific Northwest where state and federal agencies are successfully collaborating. with sovereign nations.
“We have a great opportunity to bring in traditional ecological knowledge, to put in place cooperative agreements and even to do co-management, especially on flora and fauna,” Sams said.
Sams is Cayuse and Walla Walla. He is enrolled in the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeastern Oregon, where he grew up. It has a long history of civic leadership in state and tribal governments; he was recently appointed by Governor Kate Brown to the Pacific Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and was previously Executive Director of the Umatilla Tribe.
Sams said indigenous co-management is fundamental to restoring the lands to their healthier pre-colonial conditions because tribes have a deep understanding of native plants and animal species.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship, and I think it’s important that we figure out how we manage it together to ensure that these species not only survive, but actually thrive in the landscape,” Sams said.
Sat last week testified in support of aboriginal co-management at a House natural resources committee hearing. He cited four parks that are currently co-managed by tribal governments: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Glacier Bay National Park, Grand Portage National Monument and Big Cypress National Preserve.
Some policymakers present at the hearing said they were concerned that tribal co-management would interfere with national oil production. Sams said that shouldn’t be a problem.
“We don’t deal with a lot of oil and gas leases, and that’s outside the purview of the National Park Service,” Sams told the OPB. “I understand their concerns, but it’s not necessarily a question of co-management in terms of what we do with parks and people. »
Fort Vancouver’s rehabilitation work is one of more than 120 national park projects that received funding under the Outdoors Act last year. The project will rehabilitate the fort’s 33,000 square foot twin infantry barracks, which were built in 1907.
Park staff said the construction would aim to make the building more accessible and energy-efficient, while preserving many of its historic features, like its covered porches and pressed-tin ceilings. Some maintenance costs will be optimized by renting rooms as offices. Construction is expected to be completed next spring.