Get to Know the Players: Part Three

Learn about the people in charge of our environmental and public lands agencies. 

In the Feb/Mar issue of EcoNews, we began a series to introduce the decision-makers in the current administration. Those featured in this edition are part of the Department of Agriculture.

Full Disclosure: The author’s spouse is an employee of the USDA. He is a statistician with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, which conducts research on nutrition and farm issues relating primarily to small animal and crop farmers.

Vicki Christiansen, Interim Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Official photo.
Vicki Christiansen, Interim Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Official photo.

Vicki Christiansen

Agency: U.S. Forest Service

Title:  Interim Chief (Christiansen replaces Chief Tony Tooke, who suddenly resigned March 7 after allegations of sexual misconduct were aired on the PBS program NewsHour. Ms. Christiansen is not confirmed.)

Areas of Responsibility: The United States Forest Service (USFS) manages 193 million acres of our public lands. Six million of those acres are designated wilderness. The USFS’s mission is to provide the nation with marketable timber through sustainable forestry, while making lands available for public recreation and protecting the nation’s natural and cultural resources, including watersheds, rare species and their habitats, and cultural landscapes.  Thirteen USFS scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work with the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which has been discarded by the Trump administration). Oh, and important for many—they are in charge of the care and feeding of both Smokey the Bear and Woodsy the Owl.

Contact Information:

U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC  20250
Phone: 202-205-8439 or 800-832-1355
[email protected]

Official Biography: https://www.fs.fed.us/about-agency/newsroom/leadership-biographies

Conservation Background:

Ms. Christiansen has spent most of her career in the West. Prior to joining the USFS, she served as the Arizona State Forester and Director of the Arizona Division of Forestry. She also served in the Washington State Department of Natural Resources for 26 years, attaining the title of Washington State Forester—the lead forester for the state.  With the USFS, Christensen served in several capacities related to wildland fire, beginning when she was a college student and management moving up to Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry. She also assisted with reforestation program after the volcanic eruption of the Mt. St. Helens. Christiansen has received good marks from conservation organizations in Washington State and the Pacific Northwest.

She is professionally guided by science. In Senate hearings, she has strongly supported science as the basis for forest management activities. “Where I thrive the most is connecting people with their natural resources. That is where I get my energy.”
Ms. Christiansen is a career forester and wildland fire science professional. This is her first political appointment.

 

George Ervin ‘Sonny’ Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. Official photo.
George Ervin ‘Sonny’ Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. Official photo.

George Ervin ‘Sonny’ Perdue

Agency: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Title:  Secretary of Agriculture

Areas of Responsibility:  The mission of the USDA is: “to provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management.” The USDA administers over 15 agencies—including the land-rich U.S. Forest Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Rural Development, and the SNAP program that provides supplemental nutrition to over 42 million Americans. The Congressionally approved USDA budget for 2018 is approximately $137 billion.

Contact Information:

U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
Phone: 202-720-2791

Official Biography: https://www.usda.gov/our-agency/about-usda/our-secretary

Conservation Background:  Sonny Perdue is a combination of farmer, businessman and politician. Raised a Georgia dairy crop farmer, his father taught him:  “If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.” He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Georgia and is an avid sportsman.

Perdue is a founding partner of Perdue Partners, LLC and successfully managed some of the most recognized consumer brands in America, such as Reebok and Sara Lee.

In political professional life he served in the Georgia State Senate and as Governor of Georgia from 2003-2011. Though he is said to be tough on ethics, 13 ethics complaints were filed against him. He lost two of those charges related to his use of airplanes and campaign donations from a large bank.

As Governor, he sued the EPA in order to prevent implementation of a gas program designed to limit ground-level ozone and smog, and ridiculed climate change and liberals in general. He wrote, “It’s become a running joke among the public, and liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.” In response to a drought in Georgia, Governor Perdue led a day of prayer on the steps of the state capitol to pray for rain.

 

Leonard Jordan, NRCS’ Associate Chief for Conservation. Official photo.
Leonard Jordan, NRCS’ Associate Chief for Conservation. Official photo.

Leonard Jordan

Agency: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly titled “Soil conservation Service”)

Title: Acting Chief (previously Associate Chief for Conservation)

Areas of Responsibility: The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS) was originally created to provide technical and financial assistance to farmers, tribes and private landowners and to encourage conservation of soils after the Dust Bowl. Its mission has been expanded to include water, air, and plants, but the focus remains on assistance to private landowners, tribes and farmers. The agency has been at the forefront of the grants and assistance program to owners of private forests under the Healthy Forests Reserve Program and its work can be seen in the west through the ‘Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting” program that maintains measuring instruments in western mountains where communities rely on snowmelt as part of the community water source.

Contact Information:

USDA NRCS, Office of the Chief
1400 USDA Independence Ave., SW, Room 5105-A
Washington, DC 20250
Phone: 202-720-7246
[email protected]

Official Biography: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/about/leadership/chief/

Conservation background: Mr. Jordan has worked for NCRS for over 37 years. He is a graduate of University of Tennessee with a degree in Agronomy. He previously served as the NRCS’s Associate Chief for Conservation. He has been the lead in the agency’s conservation mission. He has worked as a State Conservationists (providing a direct link between the agency and Georgia and Washington State.) Mr. Jordan is a career employee, not a political appointee, and there are no known conflicts or conservation issues with Mr. Jordan, whose record of accomplishing the agency’s mission seems pretty straightforward. There is no schedule for confirmation hearings at this time.