U.S. Senate Confirms Bernhardt as Secretary of the Interior

U.S. Senate Confirms Bernhardt as Secretary of the Interior

Photo credit: Tami Heilemann, Department of the Interior

After a successful cloture vote late yesterday, today members of the U.S. Senate voted 56 to 41 to confirm David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI). Two Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, voted with Republicans in favor of Bernhardt.

During his confirmation hearing on Thurs., Mar. 28, Bernhardt reiterated his intent to follow President Donald J. Trump’s emphasis on energy production. He firmly believes that accessing our country’s expansive energy resources does not have to be at the cost of wildlife or habitat conservation. And he’s proven it when as acting secretary he committed to continuing the conservation efforts started under former DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke. Bernhardt celebrated the successful recovery of the gray wolf and began the delisting process so that the Endangered Species Act could be utilized as intended, not to keep a species listed indefinitely, but to manage it once its population reached a healthy level. He also released funding for numerous state grants to improve migration routes and habitat ranges for Western big game species in the ongoing effort of the department to work more in concert with states and volunteer private landowners. 

Bernhardt has been involved in politics since he was 16 and petitioned his city council not to tax arcade games at a teen center he was starting. In 1990, he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado, from where he applied for and received an internship at the U.S. Supreme Court. Four years later he graduated with honors from George Washington University Law School and was admitted to the Colorado Bar Association.

During the George W. Bush administration, Bernhardt served as deputy chief of staff and counselor and then as director of congressional and legislative affairs. The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed him as DOI solicitor, and he served in that capacity from 2006 to 2009. Afterward, he returned to Brownstein Hyatt and Farber, a Denver law and lobbying firm, where he became a shareholder and chairman of the firm’s natural resources law practice. Clients included Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources and Independent Petroleum Association of America. In 2016 he withdrew his registration as a lobbyist, and assisted President Trump and Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) with staffing the DOI.

Despite cries of conflict of interest, when President Trump tapped him for the deputy secretary position, the National Rifle Association backed the nomination. In addition, letters of support for Bernhardt came in from pro-hunting and conservation organizations such as the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable, Ducks Unlimited and the Boone and Crocket Club. 

The Purpose of the Department of the Interior
The mission of the DOI is not just to “conserve,” but also to “manage” the nation’s natural resources, and not just for the “enjoyment” of the American people, but for their “benefit.” More specifically, one of the department’s stated goals is to help indigenous communities to “prosper.” The vision for the department under President Trump includes the following:

  • Promote energy security and critical minerals development to create jobs for Americans, insulate our nation from volatile political developments overseas, provide additional energy security to allies via surplus domestic supply, and generate revenue for all levels of government so they in turn have the resources to better serve the American people.
  • Increase access to outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans so that our people can be healthier, more fully enjoy the wonderful features of their federal lands, and take advantage of hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation pursuits that are the roots of the conservation movement.
  • Enhance conservation stewardship whereby all levels of government and private landowners work cooperatively together in an atmosphere of mutual respect to achieve shared natural resource management goals across landscapes.
  • Improve management of species and their habitats by focusing our financial and staff resources on improving the status of our nation’s fish and wildlife and the healthy habitats that support them, and by streamlining bureaucracy to help us spend relatively more of our funding productively on the ground to better meet societal needs and our own natural resource management responsibilities.
About the Author: Erin C. Healy is the associate editor of the NRA Hunters' Leadership Forum. She edited a lifestyle magazine on Cape Cod for 14 years and provided marketing services for her local guntry club prior to working for BLADE magazine. She served in the U.S. Army, is an NRA Life Member, a National Wild Turkey Federation member and sends her Jack Russell Terriers to ground as often as possible.

Follow NRA Hunters' Leadership Forum on Twitter @HuntersLead.