On Friday, the Trump Administration announced its plan to nominate Raymond David Vela, the current chief of Grand Teton National Park, to lead the National Park Service. If Congress signs off, David Vela would become the first Latino superintendent of the NPS, with a resume that's extraordinarily encouraging for champions of public land.
“David Vela has demonstrated all of the ideals that the National Park Service stands for, and his long track record of leadership on behalf of the people and places of the National Park Service distinguish him as the right man for the job,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “Our extraordinary national parks will be in the best of hands with David at the helm.”
Ordinarily, praise from Zinke would not be a good thing. Since his appointment, the DOI Secretary has spearheaded an assault on America’s public lands, as part of an effort to sell off our heritage to the oil and gas industries. But David Vela seems like a genuinely stellar candidate to fill a position that’s been empty since January 2017 when Jonathan Jarvis retired.
David Vela began his career at the Park Service in 1981 as a cooperative education student at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas. He became a full-time park ranger soon after that, where he quickly rose through the ranks; in 1984, he was promoted to Supervisory Park Ranger at Virginia’s Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Three years later, he left the park service to serve as a special agent in the Department of Health and Human Services. David Vela then served as the special assistant for Hispanic affairs for Texas Democratic congressman George Leland, while working as a special investigator in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1996, David Vela was appointed director of the Texas Child Support Program. He returned to the NPS in 1998, when he was appointed Superintendent of Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site in Texas. Since then, he's run the George Washington Memorial Parkway, in D.C., and Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming.
Even more promising, David Vela served as the park service’s associate director for Workforce, Relevancy, and Inclusion, where he oversaw various equal opportunity and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Given the park service’s current struggles with sexual harassment allegations and the outdoor recreation industry’s ongoing efforts to serve a more diverse audience, he sounds like exactly the right man for the job. “He is especially passionate about making our national parks more relevant to diverse populations,” stated park service Intermountain Regional Director Sue Masica in a 2014 press release.
Should he be approved by Congress, David Vela will inherit all the aforementioned problems, in addition to the park service’s nearly $12-billion maintenance backlog. And he’ll be forced to tackle those issues within a DOI that’s openly hostile to the future of federally managed public lands. Is David Vela up for the challenge and will he work in the interest of the American people? We’ll find out.