Lynn Scarlett, top Bush official, joins The Nature Conservancy


It's no surprise that federal officials often end up employed by various think-tanks, nonprofits and trade groups once their stints on Capitol Hill are over. For example, here's where some George W. Bush administration folks have gone: Dale Hall, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, is now CEO of Ducks Unlimited. Dave Tenny, who headed the Forest Service, founded the National Alliance of Forest Owners, which lobbies for policies that "advance the economic and environmental benefits of privately-owned forests." And former Interior Secretary Gale Norton started her own consulting firm, Norton Regulatory Strategies, to help energy, mining and other companies navigate "the toughest regulatory challenges."

Lynn Scarlett, former deputy Secretary of Interior, is now public policy director at The Nature Conservancy.

The latest announcement concerns former Interior deputy secretary Lynn Scarlett, who's going to work for The Nature Conservancy, as managing director for public policy. TNC describes itself as "the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people."

At first glance, the choice might seem, well, surprising. Scarlett, you'll recall, was second in command at the younger Bush's Interior Department. And that administration was, of course, notorious for its anti-environmentalist, pro-corporate policies.

In 2002, during Bush's first term, we noted that officials in Interior and the Department of Agriculture had "no game plan for the public lands." The next year, we wrote about a deal that opened hundreds of areas proposed for wilderness protection to drilling ("Wilderness takes a massive hit" and "Two decades of hard work, plowed under"). We ran other stories about how Bush's Bureau of Land Management made oil and gas drilling the top priority. Our 2007 story "As Interior Turns" charted the corruption and scandals that plagued the Interior Department. Once Bush left office, we devoted an entire issue to examining his administration's environmental policies and considering how the damage might be repaired ("What a Mess").

Given all that, why would a group like The Nature Conservancy hire one of Bush's top Interior officials? Well, for one, Scarlett's an outdoorswoman: an avid hiker, birder, and canoeist, she also serves on the boards of the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and the American Hiking Society. More importantly, she didn't really seem to reflect the more rapacious aspects of the administration she served. Along with her boss Gale Norton, she emphasized collaboration as a way to solve thorny public land management issues. And as we reported in a 2002 story, she worked on developing landowner incentive programs, such as tax credits and assistance designed to encourage property owners to get rid of invasive species.

In 2006, the then-editor-in-chief of HCN, Greg Hanscom, ended up on a plane with Scarlett – and surprised himself by discovering a lot of common ground. He wrote the following account of their encounter:

On a flight early (in) the morning, I found myself sitting next to none other than Lynn Scarlett, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. I’d never met Scarlett in person, but I’d spoken to her on the phone a few years before, when I was working on a story about a team of Forest Service employees whose jobs had been outsourced to private contractors. In the story, I’d given Scarlett her say, but I’d also gone out of my way to expose what I believed to be her real agenda: emasculating federal environmental agencies in order to turn their duties over to corporations.

There I was — a guy who had done my best, for almost a decade, to force HCN readers into some pretty agonizing conversations about the West — caught in a surprise encounter with a woman I believed to be my nemesis. …

Scarlett asked that I not share the conversation with readers, and admittedly, it was too early in the morning for official quotes.But I will say that, as we jetted over the vast gas fields of western Wyoming, we found more areas of agreement than I ever would have imagined.

Looking back on that conversation, Hanscom today writes, "Scarlett was indeed greener than the Bush administration. She really bought the whole "4 Cs" thing that Norton pushed (communication, consultation and cooperation, all in the service of conservation). Her comments to me on the plane were along those lines: It's tough to get buy-in for collaboration when the bosses are pushing to drill, mine, and pillage at all costs. She's a perfect fit for TNC."

Lynn Scarlett at the Grand Canyon. Courtesy American Hiking Society.

E&E News sees her similarly, noting how her views on conservation fit those of TNC:

Before she joined the Bush administration, Scarlett served as president of the libertarian Reason Foundation, where she advocated for "a new environmentalism," one that promotes incentives to encourage private-sector stewardship of lands and natural resources.

TNC, one of the world's largest environmental organizations, works closely with private landowners to purchase lands and secure conservation easements that prevent sensitive landscapes from being developed.

In many ways, its work aligns with Scarlett's emphasis on providing incentives for resource protection.

And in 2008, veteran Western reporter Rocky Barker even proposed her as a candidate for Interior's top position, if the Republican candidate for President, John McCain, were to win:

One woman I would include in my list is current Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett. She was unscathed by the mismanagement under Norton and shares McCain's environmental, libertarian philosophy.

We look forward to seeing how Scarlett helps promote landscape-scale conservation policies in her new job; she'll be able to accomplish much more good for the environment, we think, than she got to under the Bush administration.

Jodi Peterson is HCN's managing editor.

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