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Jordan Rane, Columbia Insight
Published: 02 June 2023

Since its inception in 1935, the National Park System Advisory Board (NPSAB) has served as a stalwart alliance of advisors for the current and future well being of our cherished national parks.

At least, until lately.

Thrown into disarray and disbandment during the Trump administration (when nine of 12 members resigned in protest, including its chairperson), the federally chartered board of environmental experts from various fields authorized to advise both the Secretary of the Interior and Director of the National Park Service on national park matters has been inoperative over the last two and a half years for reasons not entirely known.

aja decoteau introAja DeCoteauThe hiatus finally ended last week when Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland reestablished the NPSAB with 15 new appointees—including a notably historic one: executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) Aja DeCoteau.

A citizen of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation with Cayuse, Nez Perce and Chippewa lineage, DeCoteau is the first Native American to serve on the NPSAB in its 88-year history.

“Growing up in Indian Country of the Yakama Nation, I have always held a deep appreciation and sense of stewardship for our sacred waters and lands,” said DeCoteau in a press release. “I am honored to help advise Secretary Haaland, [National Park Service] Director Sams and the National Park System as we continue to provide all visitors of current and future generations the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife of this county.”

DeCoteau’s two decades of natural resource management and policy work in the Columbia River Basin include coordinating fishery restoration, watershed protection and climate change response. DeCoteau serves on the Earthjustice board as well as the board of Columbia Land Trust.

They’re back

The NPS Advisory Board’s management decisions impact public lands and waters, including recommending new National Historic Landmarks and proposing National Historic Trails in parks that are “the most visible forums for visitors to explore the outdoors and learn the complicated yet vital story of America,” said Secretary Haaland in a press release.

“I look forward to their insight as we work to make our public lands accessible and inviting to all,” said Secretary Haaland.

“Recommendations developed by the National Park System Advisory Board will help us strengthen our connection to the land and to our history,” added National Park Service Director Chuck Sams, a member of the Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes, and the first Native American to serve in this position since being sworn in on Dec. 16, 2021.

The NPSAB’s new appointees will meet later this year. They include former state natural resource secretaries, environmental nonprofit directors and scholars in disciplines ranging from environmental law to ecology and evolutionary biology.

“Though frequently working in the background, the board has been in the vanguard of new thinking and practice, even on occasion serving as a kind of moral compass for NPS as it has grappled with continuous change … and grown during both Republican and Democratic nominations—at least until the Trump years,” wrote historic preservation scholar and former national parks superintendent Rolf Diamant in a University of California editorial earlier this year. “A dormant National Park System Advisory Board is not a good thing—either for the National Park Service or the national park system.”

Columbia Insight contributing editor Jordan Rane is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in CNN.com, Outside, Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

Columbia Insight, based in Hood River, Oregon, is nonprofit news site focused on environmental issues of the Columbia River Basin.

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