Photo Credit: DOI
Late on Monday President Trump announced he was nominating Aurelia Skipwith of Indiana, a former executive at Monsanto (working for the Big Ag giant from 2006 to 2012), to head the Fish and Wildlife Service. She is currently the deputy assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.
“The selection of Aurelia Skipwith, who worked at Monsanto for six years, to head FWS carries on a Trump administration trend of filling top environmental regulatory positions with officials from companies regulated by the agency. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Skipwith’s duties will include enforcing federal wildlife laws, protecting endangered species, managing migratory birds, and conserving and restoring wildlife habitat.”1
Although the Fish and Wildlife Service has been without a Senate-confirmed director since the president took office in January 2017, environmental and conservation groups have largely condemned her nomination, noting that she’s spent “the past year and a half at the Interior Department helping to oversee the administration’s dismantling of wildlife and national monument protections.”2
A sentiment echoed by Brett Hartl’s, a government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, Tuesday statement, “Skipwith will always put the interests of her old boss Monsanto and other polluters ahead of America’s wildlife and help the most anti-environmental administration in history do even more damage.”3
I do agree that it’s an interesting choice to put a person with those qualifications and worldview in charge of the protection of lands and water in national parks and the wildlife refuge system.
And speaking of qualifications, Skipwith has a master’s degree in molecular genetics from Purdue University and a law degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Is she even really qualified?
“Under current U.S. law, the Center for Biological Diversity said a president cannot appoint a person to run FWS unless the person is ‘by reason of scientific education and experience, knowledgeable in the principles of fisheries and wildlife management.’ Skipwith’s nomination breaks with decades of tradition from presidential administrations of both parties ‘in that she has neither education nor experience in fisheries and wildlife management,’ the environmental group said.”4
Current Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tried to make Greg Sheehan, a former Utah official who served as deputy director for 14 months but stepped down in August, the acting director but was barred from doing so because Sheehan didn’t have a required science degree.5 (Again, how does her science degree qualify her for this job?)
Skipwith said in a statement that her goal is to help “protect our species, increase public access and ensure science is at the forefront of our decisions.”6 We shall see, only time will tell.
One thing we do like? If she’s confirmed by the Senate she will be the first African-American woman to head the wildlife agency. 7 But we will be watching closely. Let’s hope she really does care about our environment. It’s the only one we have and it’s about time we started protecting it. Before it’s too late.