Aurelia Skipwith’s nomination to lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service breaks a glass ceiling but leaves many environmentalists worried.

A former Monsanto executive may become the new boss of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. President Trump picked Aurelia Skipwith this week to lead the organization, and if confirmed she will become the first African-American to lead the fish and wildlife agency.

Skipwith is a biologist and lawyer from Indiana currently serving as the deputy assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. Formerly, she spent six years at Monsanto, with additional work experience at the Agriculture Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, was an agrochemical giant most famously known for its development of genetically modified seeds and its flagship product – the pesticide Roundup. Monsanto has been the target of many lawsuits over the alleged adverse health effects of its products.

Most recently, Monsanto/Bayer lost the first ever lawsuit specifically targeting Roundup. A groundskeeper who alleged Roundup lead to his cancer was awarded over $250 million, but a judge later reduced the financial award to $78 million.

Are Endangered Species More at Risk?

The Fish and Wildlife Service has been without a Senate-confirmed director since Trump became president in January 2017. Greg Sheehan served as deputy director at the Fish and Wildlife Service for 14 months but stepped down in August. There was a push to confirm Sheehan as acting director but Sheehan lacked the required science degree to fill the position.

Environmentalists have been opposed to many of the changes proposed during Sheehan’s tenure at the Service. Sheehan pushed for more fishing and hunting on federal lands and removed equal protections for threatened and endangered wildlife.

Wildlife advocates are also worried that a series of amendments, which some are calling an extinction package, could significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act and significantly harm animals and habitats.

“The wildlife extinction package is an extreme and all-encompassing assault on the Endangered Species Act,” Bob Dreher, senior vice president of conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, says in a statement on YubaNet.com. “These bills discard science, increasing the likelihood of harm to species and habitat, create hurdles to protecting species, and undermine citizen’s ability to enforce the law in court, while delegating authority for species management to states—or even corporations and individuals—that are ill-equipped to assume it.”

The Nomination of Skipwith Comes With Controversy

Some activists see Skipwith as a continuation of the Trump administration’s alleged attack on the environment. In a Seattle Times article, Chris Saeger, executive director of the liberal, Montana-based Western Values Project, called Skipwith “a darling of corporate special interests” and said her nomination was “business as usual for an administration that has sought to reward its allies at the expense of public lands and wildlife.”

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity disapproved as well of Skipwith’s nomination.

“Aurelia Skipwith has been working in the Trump administration all along to end protections for billions of migratory birds, gut endangered species safeguards and eviscerate national monuments,” said Hartl. “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.”

On the other hand, some are pleased with Skipwith’s nomination. Ethan Lane, Executive Director of the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Federal Lands, applauded the nomination.

“We are extremely pleased that the White House is planning to nominate Aurelia Skipwith to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During her time as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks she has proven herself to be an open-minded and thoughtful leader on the most critical issues facing the Department. I have no doubt she will bring that same enthusiasm to the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Lane in a statement.

Skipwith has stated that her goals were to “protect our species, increase public access and ensure science is at the forefront of our decisions.”

 

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