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Former Interior Official Lynn Scarlett Joins Nature Conservancy

Lynn Scarlett
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
Sept. 5, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

When Lynn Scar­lett was the second highest-rank­ing of­fi­cial at the In­teri­or De­part­ment, her col­leagues re­ferred to her as “the gazelle.” A fan­at­ic­al birder and self-de­scribed “de­votee” of wild­life refuges, Scar­lett op­er­ates at a man­ic pace and al­ways seems to be in a jog.

Earli­er this week, Scar­lett was named man­aging dir­ect­or for pub­lic policy at the Nature Con­servancy, where she will be re­united with Bob Bendick, with whom Scar­lett co­chairs the Prac­ti­tion­ers’ Net­work for Large Land­scape Con­ser­va­tion.

Scar­lett, 63, was raised in west­ern Pennsylvania — “not far from where Rachel Car­son lived,” she said — and spent much of her child­hood in a 27-acre wooded lot be­hind her house. “Ever since I could wield the bin­ocu­lars when I was 5 or 6 years old, my moth­er took me out bird­ing.”

After re­ceiv­ing bach­el­or’s and mas­ter’s de­grees from the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (Santa Bar­bara), Scar­lett was hired by the Los Angeles-based Reas­on Found­a­tion, where she spe­cial­ized in haz­ard­ous-waste and oth­er en­vir­on­ment­al-policy is­sues. Over the course of 15 years at the liber­tari­an think tank, Scar­lett served as re­search dir­ect­or, vice pres­id­ent for policy, and even­tu­ally pres­id­ent and ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or.

When George W. Bush was elec­ted to his first term, Scar­lett was re­cruited to the In­teri­or De­part­ment, cus­todi­an of 500 mil­lion acres of fed­er­al pub­lic lands, as as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for policy, man­age­ment, and budget. After serving briefly as head of the de­part­ment fol­low­ing the resig­na­tion of Sec­ret­ary Gale Norton in 2006, Scar­lett was el­ev­ated to deputy sec­ret­ary and chief op­er­at­ing of­ficer un­der Norton’s suc­cessor, Dirk Kempthorne. She was briefly en­snared in con­tro­versy the fol­low­ing year, when she ap­peared be­fore a con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee to as­sure law­makers that she would re­view any de­cisions made by a rep­rob­ate Fish and Wild­life Ser­vice of­fi­cial, who had resigned amid ac­cus­a­tions that she vi­ol­ated fed­er­al eth­ics rules.

To­ward the end of her ten­ure, Scar­lett served as a lead au­thor on the U.S. Na­tion­al Cli­mate As­sess­ment, which com­piled and syn­thes­ized re­search on the im­plic­a­tions of cli­mate change. Some land and wa­ter un­der the pur­view of the In­teri­or De­part­ment, such as the Ever­glades in south­ern Flor­ida, are es­pe­cially vul­ner­able to sea-level rise, chan­ging pat­terns of pre­cip­it­a­tion, and oth­er symp­toms of a warm­ing plan­et. “As prudent man­agers, we needed to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what these ef­fects were, so that we could up our game, so that we could en­sure we were re­du­cing risk to those re­sources and man­aging wisely,” Scar­lett said.

At the same time, she and her col­leagues made sure not to ex­ceed their man­date, which was to as­sess the risks as­so­ci­ated with cli­mate change, not set policy. “That was a mat­ter for the Con­gress,” Scar­lett said.

Be­fore ar­riv­ing at the Nature Con­servancy, Scar­lett was co­dir­ect­or of Re­sources for the Fu­ture’s Cen­ter for Man­age­ment of Eco­lo­gic­al Wealth. When in Wash­ing­ton, her fa­vor­ite bird­ing des­tin­a­tions are Bom­bay Hook Na­tion­al Wild­life Refuge and Prime Hook Na­tion­al Wild­life Refuge, both on the Delaware coast. She has two grand­chil­dren, ages 1 and 4.

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