Robert Bonnie confirmed as Under Secretary of Agriculture

Last week the Senate confirmed the nomination of Robert Bonnie to be the new Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment. In this role he will supervise the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Mr. Bonnie comes highly recommended by dozens of organizations, including environmental groups as well as some connected to the timber industry. The National Association of State Foresters has a long list of the organizations. Here is an excerpt from the recommendation on their site:

…Mr. Bonnie is a leading national expert on efforts to reward stewardship on private lands. Serving as Senior Advisor to Secretary Vilsack for Environment and Climate since 2009, Mr. Bonnie has demonstrated strong leadership at USDA on decisions to conserve the nation’s natural resources. Before joining USDA, Mr. Bonnie co-led the Land, Water Wildlife program and directed the Center for Conservation Incentives at Environmental Defense Fund. For more than a decade at EDF, Mr. Bonnie worked collaboratively with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to develop solutions to protect endangered species and other resources. His leadership will also be welcome in improving the operations of the National Forest System.

We have below an excerpt from Mr. Bonnie’s written statement when he was being considered by a committee:

…The growth in catastrophic fire has had an enormous human toll as we witnessed with the recent loss of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hot Show Crew in the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona. Though these firefighters weren’t federal employees, they are part of a close-knit firefighting community and the Forest Service and the Department of Interior are deeply saddened by the loss of their colleagues. As with every firefighting fatality, we must ensure that we learn from this incident so that we can prevent future tragedies such as this one. The Forest Service continues to strive to make safety a bedrock value. If confirmed, I will support these efforts and work with Secretary Vilsack and Chief Tidwell to ensure the safety of our firefighters and communities remains paramount.

Both the President and the Secretary have spoken about the substantial budgetary challenges created by the growth of catastrophic wildfires for the Forest Service. Whereas the Forest Service use to spend 10-15% of its budget on fire preparedness and suppression, today it spends closer to 40% or more during bad fire years. Since 1998, Forest Service fire staff has more than doubled, while forestry, biologists, and recreation staff has been reduced over 35%. Budgeting for fire has forced the Forest Service to make difficult budgeting decisions, including reducing funding for management activities that might otherwise prevent catastrophic fires. If confirmed, I look forward to working with the President, the Secretary, this Committee and Congress to address both the budget challenges and the land management challenges presented by catastrophic wildfire.

Since the Senate has not been approving many of the President’s nominees for anything, the position has been open for a while, filled in the interim with Ann Mills as an acting Under Secretary.

Generally we have not heard a lot from the people in this powerful position since Mark Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist, was in the job during the last Bush administration. They testify in front of committees, but generally do not make the news. Mr. Rey was the exception and is now doing very well financially as a lobbyist working for Lockheed Martin and other companies. Lockheed described his duties as lobbying the federal government to buy the company’s “firefighting equipment”. Translated: Convince the U.S. Forest Service to buy a large number of C-130J aircraft at $80 to $90 million each to serve as air tankers. reports that in 2012 Mr. Rey made $436,000 as a lobbyist. To date this year they show that he has earned $236,000.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

5 thoughts on “Robert Bonnie confirmed as Under Secretary of Agriculture”

  1. I would hope Mr. Bonnie comes through with some positive changes and not a lot of empty rhetoric, but unfortunately, after reading his comments, I would expect that he will recommend a continued lockdown on the timber industry and further reducing the already meager timber harvest. Salvage harvesting following fire will likely be non-existent. With Mr. Bonnie in place environmental groups will continue to have a rabid booster inside this administration to direct their preservation agenda. Predictable. Nothing will change from the present..

    1. Mr. or Ms. Sale, regarding your opinion on what Mr. Bonnie’s agenda will be, there are quite a few forestry organizations and companies that endorsed his nomination, including the Society of American Foresters.

      1. “The times they’ve been a-changin” is so true Bill. The political pendulum swings back and forth.

        I checked with one of the organizations. They did indeed sign the letter, but you have to understand that they don’t control the dance floor. They dance to the tune the DJ is playing.

        We’ll see just what Mr. Bonnie accomplishes. I hope it’s positive. I’m normally quite optimistic, but with this appointment I’m not.


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