Cantwell Questions Nominee for National Park Director about Mount Rainier, Olympic National Parks

Cantwell: “The National Park Service is a steward and guardian of our nation’s most iconic landscapes in its most treasured and historic lands.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, at a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing to consider the nomination of Charles F. Sams III to be the first Native American Director of the National Park Service, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke about the importance of filling the top leadership position with a historic nominee, and the urgent need to implement the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) that Senator Cantwell helped spearhead through Congress in 2020. GAOA will fund a major down payment on reducing the backlogs in maintenance projects on our public lands and treasured parks, including Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Parks.

“[National] parks, as you know, in the Pacific Northwest are big business. They generate $2.3 billion in state and local revenue and over 100,000 jobs on all public lands. So helping to fix the backlog in maintenance, we have $427 million in deferred maintenance,” said Senator Cantwell. “There are projects at Olympic National Park, it’s a 50 year old water treatment facility that needs upgrading. And we need investing in campgrounds at Mount Rainier and Visitor Center upgrades at Paradise. So are those things that you can commit to taking care of — this backlog in maintenance in our national parks?”

Sams responded, “Yes, I am committed to reviewing all of that in the process that’s currently the National Park Service is using. While I’m not currently in the service, I’ve been talking with a number of folks about this. I’m committed to making sure those that are in most critical need of repair are prioritized so that they can be taken care of, and again, with an eye on ensuring that they will be usable for next 50 to 75 years.”

Senator Cantwell authored and championed the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which allocated $6.5 billion to address long overdue maintenance projects across America’s beloved National Parks. The legislation also permanently and fully funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually. The legislation was signed into law in August 2020.

Cantwell also expressed concerns over the staffing issues that may be slowing repairs of aging roads, visitor centers, and other park infrastructure. At the hearing, Senator Cantwell asked Sams, “Do you believe there are enough staff on the ground to begin work on improving our parks?”

Sams responded, “Staff are down by 20% from just several years ago. I think that there needs to be some looking at re-staffing so that we can get more boots on the ground to help with these issues.”

Senator Cantwell followed up, “And how would you suggest we do that…This is a job a lot of people would like, so how do we increase this opportunity and communication to people, particularly at this time?”

Sams responded, “It’ll be looking at…the workforce development and…ensuring that we are preparing the next generation of Rangers… The federal government has a number of ways of doing that. And I look forward, if confirmed, on working on those ways to ensure that there are avenues for more folks to come into the service.”

On average, $21.6 billion is spent in Washington state on recreation trips and equipment every year. In 2019, there were 8.4 million recreational visits to federal public lands in Washington state. Washington collects $2 billion in local and state taxes annually and $4.6 billion is generated by out-of-state visitors. For every dollar they spend, $1.36 is generated for the state.

Cantwell has been a leading champion of public lands throughout her time in office. She has also been outspoken about the need to address the maintenance backlogs on federal lands. In 2019, Cantwell’s legislation to permanently reauthorize the LWCF was signed into law as part of her bipartisan public lands package.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with Charles F. Sams III is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is HERE.