A Former Monsanto Executive Could Be the Next U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director

Aurelia Skipwith is a biologist and lawyer who's been with the Department of the Interior since April of 2017.
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Caribou graze in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Caribou graze in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Aurelia Skipwith will soon be nominated as director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, President Donald Trump announced on Monday. Skipwith previously served in the Department of the Interior as the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks.

Skipwith spent six years at agribusiness giant Monsanto, but she's worked for public agencies and other private companies since she left the company in 2012. Here's what you need to know about her nomination.

Skipwith Has an Agribusiness and Legal Background

Skipwith has a B.S. in biology from Howard University and an M.S. in molecular genetics from Purdue University. In 2015, she received a law degree from the University of Kentucky, and she's a member of the Kentucky Bar Association.

From 2006 to 2012, Skipwith worked for Monsanto, first in the regulatory sciences department and then in corporate affairs, according to her LinkedIn. In the corporate affairs department, she worked with non-governmental organizations and major donors to manage communications around Monsanto crops for African countries and worked to "further [the] company's sustainability and diversity messaging."

After leaving Monsanto, she began her law degree at Kentucky and interned with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and consulted for the U.S. Agency for International Development's Bureau for Food Security. After receiving her J.D., she joined Alltech, an animal feed agriculture business, and co-founded AVC Global, a digitally based agricultural consulting firm. Then, she joined the Department of the Interior as deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks in April of 2017.

She Could Be in Charge of Conservation Across the Country

The USFWS administers the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and oversees fisheries, wildlife refuges, and other federally managed lands. It also works with hunters and fishermen, but it hasn't had an official director since Trump took office in January of 2017. The agency's deputy director, Greg Sheehan, was nominated by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and ran the service until he stepped down in August. Under Trump, the USFWS has worked to loosen protections for threatened species and allowed the use of bee-harming pesticides (and the genetically modified crops that can tolerate them) within national wildlife refuges.

Her Path to Confirmation Is Through the Senate

After she's nominated, Skipwith will have to be confirmed by the Senate. She will need to face the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for a hearing, then be approved by the full chamber. The current EPW chairman, John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), is a well-known climate change denier.

The committee's minority includes national figures like Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey). No hearing date has been set yet. If confirmed, Skipwith would be the first black director of USFWS, and she'll only be the third female nominee for the position.

Environmental Advocates Are Protesting Her Nomination

The Center for Biological Diversity put out a press release that called Skipwith potentially the "most unqualified [director] in agency history," citing her lack of experience with fisheries and wildlife. Advocacy group the Western Values Project pointed to "possible conflict of interest issues."

According to ProPublica's analysis of her financial disclosures, Skipwith owns stock in Citigroup, AVC Global (the group she co-founded), and Monsanto. Politico also reported her stock holdings in 2017, after she joined the Department of the Interior. Additionally, Monsanto, her former employer, has given directly to EPW committee members Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) and Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska) and donated to other political action committees that have distributed funds to Barrasso and Democrats Gillibrand and Tammy Baldwin (Illinois), among others.

In the Department of the Interior's press release, Zinke and others praised Skipwith as "an accomplished and capable public policy professional" and "an effective and knowledgeable leader on a range of tough, contentious issues." Skipwith said she was "honored" to be considered, and that she looks forward to "the opportunity to lead the Service in achieving a conservation legacy second only to President Teddy Roosevelt."

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