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.