Next Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should restore our nation’s commitment to conservation

Defenders congratulates Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack

(12/17/2008) - WASHINGTON – Today President-elect Barack Obama is expected to name Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as the next Secretary of the Interior, and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as the next Secretary of Agriculture. Today’s nominations will round out the cabinet team that Obama has assembled to address the nation’s environmental and energy needs.

In his four years in the Senate, Senator Salazar has had an increasingly strong environmental voting record. Defenders of Wildlife is hopeful that he will effectively respond to the unprecedented challenges facing the Interior Department, which oversees almost one-fifth of all of the lands in the United States.

Governor Vilsack has a record of supporting strong land and water conservation strategies for the nation’s farmland, and has called for replacing traditional farm subsidies with incentives for farmers who work to improve their soil and water management.

The following is a statement from Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen:

“The next Secretary of the Interior will face great challenges in ensuring that America’s wildlife, lands and natural resources are protected while we move to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. We believe Senator Salazar has the potential to be a strong leader of the Interior Department.  We encourage him to recognize that this is a department sorely in need of reform, and we look forward to working with him in addressing the many challenges he will face as chief steward of our national parks, wildlife refuges and public lands in an era of global warming.

“In the same vein, we believe that Governor Vilsack can help lead the Department of Agriculture, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, by providing stewardship of our national forests, in a manner that protects the land, water and wildlife resources found on them.  Governor Vilsack can also encourage America’s farmers and ranchers to help conserve agricultural lands for wildlife and become partners in tackling climate change through renewable energy development that also protects wildlife and natural ecosystems.  We stand ready to work with him to achieve these goals. 

“Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the Interior and Agriculture Departments in carrying out their land and wildlife stewardship responsibilities is the urgent need to respond to the impacts of global warming on wildlife and habitat, as described in Defenders’ recent publication “Beyond Cutting Emissions: Protecting Wildlife and Ecosystems in a Warming World.”

“Over the past eight years, the Bush administration has worked consistently to undermine crucial safeguards for America’s public lands and for our fish, birds and other wildlife. Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack should move quickly and decisively to undo this damage and then move forward with the aggressive action needed to provide the protections that America’ s  lands, waters and wildlife need to survive our warming climate.

“A good start would be to reverse the current administration’s ‘11th hour’ attacks on current conservation laws and programs, end the political manipulation of science that marked so many decisions under President Bush, and restore funding to the cash- and staff-starved agencies responsible for maintaining our national parks, wildlife refuges and other natural areas on public lands. We also look forward to the reversal of the blatantly industry-friendly policy shifts that have occurred under the Bush administration’s watch, such as the unrelenting efforts to undermine protection of roadless areas on national forests and to remove the requirement that national forests be managed to maintain viable wildlife populations.

“With leadership from President Obama, Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack, we hope to see the United States take a leading role in addressing global warming and the impacts already being felt on our wildlife and public lands. America was once a world leader in environmental conservation, and must be again.

“I look forward to working with Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack to usher in a new era of strong, science-based conservation and public lands stewardship at the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture.”

Read more about Defenders' Conservation Agenda for the Obama administration


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit





Cat Lazaroff, 202-772-3270