Conservation groups clash over Trump's nomination of David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary



By Dan Bacher |  

Conservation groups representing sportsmen are clashing over their assessment of President Donald Trump’s nomination of David Bernhardt to become Secretary of Interior, with a prominent salmon restoration organization criticizing the nomination and a prominent duck conservation group praising it.  

Bernhardt, a former Westlands Water District and Big Oil lobbyist, was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Interior in July 2017 — and then served as Acting Interior Secretary after Ryan Zinke resigned in January under a cloud of federal investigations.

In a tweet yesterday, Trump said, “I am pleased to announce that David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the Interior, will be nominated as Secretary of the Interior. David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!”

However, many fishing, conservation, Tribal, environmental justice and consumer organizations disagreed strongly with Trump’s assessment that Bernhardt has done a “fantastic job.”

John McManus, President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA), criticized Trump’s nomination of Bernhardt because of the threat he said it poses to salmon and other fisheries — and urged the Governor and Legislature to fully implement current state law and to pass new legislation, SB 1, to protect California’s natural resources.

“Now more than ever we need Governor Newsom and the state legislature to fully implement existing state law and to pass SB 1 to protect California’s natural resources, including our salmon runs, from Bernhardt and his former clients at the Westlands Water District in the arid western San Joaquin Valley,” said McManus.

“Bernhardt has worked overtime in recent months to shut out federal salmon scientists and regulators from water decisions, instead handing all the decision making power over federal water projects in California to his cronies.  The Trump administration, under Bernhardt, has tried repeatedly to crank the Delta pumps up to levels over and above what the law allows.  But for the state of California saying no, the Bay-Delta and our salmon runs would be in even worse shape today,” McManus noted. 

McManus said SB 1 is a proposal in the state legislature that would protect California’s rivers, wildlife, and a balanced economy. “It’s needed yesterday,” McManus.

In addition, McManus said the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) “needs to fully use its authority under the California Endangered Species Act to protect listed salmon runs and other endangered wildlife.  California must step up to protect our natural heritage, including salmon runs and our fishing industry.”

In contrast, Ducks Unlimited (DU), an international organization that promotes wetlands and waterfowl conservation worldwide, applauded President Trump’s announcement to nominate David L. Bernhardt to serve as the new Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). 

"I have known and worked with David Bernhardt for more than a decade and we are excited to continue to work with him as the new Secretary of the Interior,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall. “His integrity in following the law is beyond reproach. David Bernhardt is a champion of conservation and the right person for the job. We urge the Senate to swiftly confirm him.”   

Ducks Unlimited Inc. describes itself as “the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 14 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.”

Michael Brune, President of the Sierra Club, strongly disagreed with Dale Hall’s assessment of Bernhardt as “a champion of conservation,” instead calling Bernhardt one of Trump’s “worst appointees yet for Interior Secretary” and a “walking conflict of interest who has no business overseeing America's public lands.”

“As a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry, Bernhardt represented dozens of companies with business currently being regulated by the Interior department,” said Brune. “He has so many conflicts of interest he has to carry a card listing all of them. And as deputy to disgraced former secretary Ryan Zinke, Bernhardt was reportedly behind many of Interior's plans to sell off America's public lands and waters to fossil fuels companies—the same lands and waters he's now in charge of ‘protecting,’”

In an action alert, Brune urged Sierra Club members to “push back hard in the Senate, mobilize grassroots support, and do everything we can to stop this nomination from proceeding, in order to protect pristine public lands and vulnerable communities.” 

Background: 

In 2006, Bernhardt was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to serve as the solicitor of the DOI. As solicitor, Bernhardt was the chief legal officer and third-ranking official for the DOI. 

Prior to serving as solicitor, he held several high-level positions with the DOI including Deputy Solicitor, Deputy Chief of Staff, Counselor to the Secretary of the Interior and Director of the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs. 

In 2007, in addition to his DOI duties, Bernhardt was appointed by President George W. Bush to lead the International Boundary Commission between the United States and Canada where Bernhardt was responsible, along with his Canadian counterpart, for maintaining the 5,525-mile international boundary between these two nations.  

Prior to serving as solicitor, he held several high-level positions with the DOI including Deputy Solicitor, Deputy Chief of Staff, Counselor to the Secretary of the Interior and Director of the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs. 

In 2007, in addition to his DOI duties, Bernhardt was appointed by President George W. Bush to lead the International Boundary Commission between the United States and Canada where Bernhardt was responsible, along with his Canadian counterpart, for maintaining the 5,525-mile international boundary between these two nations. 








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