When entering Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s office in downtown Washington, D.C., I notice a beautiful trophy antler mount hanging above the fireplace.
Bernhardt, beaming with pride, tells me the massive antlers belonged to the moose he harvested in Alaska’s Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
It’s rare to encounter individuals, let alone Cabinet Members, who openly talk about this in “The Swamp.”
But for the Rifle, Colorado native, hunting and fishing are in his blood. He credits his grandpa for hooking him on fly fishing at an early age. From there, he was soon drawn to shooting sports and hunting.
The December exit of his boss, Ryan Zinke, presented Mr. Bernhardt an opportunity to become the next Secretary of the Interior.
This past February, President Trump formally nominated him to succeed Zinke. In addition to serving as Deputy Secretary of the Interior, he held various roles in the same department in the Bush administration and served as a member of Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) Board of Directors.
Despite a contentious confirmation process, the U.S. Senate approved his nomination by a 56-41 vote on April 11th, 2019.
For the 53rd Interior Secretary, he wants to bring together different stakeholders to advance a collaborative approach to conservation stewardship.
Bernhardt’s Goals at Interior
On March 3rd, 1849, Interior was established to address the country’s internal affairs. Initial responsibilities ranged from building Washington, D.C.’s water system to Indian affairs to managing public parks.
Bernhardt’s agency currently employs 69,000 people and is tasked with overseeing 483 million acres of public land, or 75% of all federal land, across all 50 states and U.S. territories. It also boasts nine bureaus—including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
He tells me it was a top priority to first reform the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 through Secretarial Order 3373, which now permits BLM to weigh public access considerations for outdoor activities like fishing, hunting, and hiking.
“When I got here, one of the first things I said is, we will ensure one of the most important things we can do as the land management agency is ensure that hunters, fishers, recreationists of all sorts, have an opportunity to access that land,” he said.
“It’s very important that we ensure that there’s public access and we facilitate public access. I’ve issued an order that says for any piece of property that we’re looking at exchanging, acquiring or disposing of, we need to think about what is the impact…on that public access.”
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Listen to an EXCLUSIVE audio clip from my interview with Secretary Bernhardt here.