Bernhardt nominated to lead Interior

By Laura Bies

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, shakes hands with David Bernhardt as he swears in Bernhardt as deputy secretary. After Zinke’s departure in January, Bernhardt has been nominated to take on the role of secretary. ©Department of Interior

President Donald Trump has nominated Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to take the position as the department’s secretary. The nomination comes less than two months after Ryan Zinke stepped down from the position in January. Bernhardt has been acting Interior secretary since Zinke’s departure.

Bernhardt was confirmed as Deputy Interior Secretary in July 2017. He also served at Interior from 2001 to 2009 in various roles. Bernhardt was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the department’s solicitor in 2006, having previously served as deputy solicitor. He has also served the department as the deputy chief of staff and as the director of Congressional and legislative affairs. Between his stints at Interior, Bernhardt chaired the natural resources department at the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP. He also recently served on the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Soon after his nomination was announced on Twitter, Bernhardt moved to begin building his staff at Interior with two new appointments. He appointed William Werkheiser as science advisor to the secretary. Werkheiser has been in the secretary’s office on temporary detail from the U.S. Geological Survey, where he was responsible for all aspects of water science programs in the USGS as the associate director for water. He has worked in the federal government for 30 years, much of it with USGS.

Bernhardt also announced that Alan Mikkelsen, who is currently Interior’s senior advisor for water and Western resource issues, will expand his portfolio to include all the Interior Department’s water policy issues.

Conservation groups have reacted to the nomination with mixed reviews. Ducks Unlimited applauded the nomination, highlighting Bernhardt’s expertise on legal matters with the department. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers adopted a more cautious tone. In their press release, they called on Bernhardt to “utilize the best available science to guide decisions that strike a balance between resource development and conservation.” Bernhardt’s 2017 nomination for deputy secretary drew opposition from a coalition of 150 environmental organizations.

His nomination for secretary will go to the Senate for confirmation.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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