Interior Secretary Jewell Announces Strong Conservation Agenda

Mark Tercek is the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. This post was originally published on the The Huffington Post. You can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTercek.

In a speech late last week, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell talked about her conservation agenda. A few items particularly caught my attention.

First, she announced that her department will quickly adopt consistent policies and procedures on using mitigation at a landscape scale in the siting of energy and other infrastructure on public lands.

This may sound like “government speak,” but it really signals an important step. It recognizes nature as one of America’s most valuable assets, and reflects the kind of constructive, solution-oriented approach to government decision-making needed to get us to an environmentally sound and prosperous future.

“Mitigation” is not mysterious. It simply means taking reasonable steps to avoid harm to our natural resources, reducing that harm as much as possible if it can’t be avoided, and compensating for any harm that remains.

We strongly support this approach, and I congratulate Secretary Jewell for her initiative.

Mitigation, fairly and properly used, is a practical, efficient, and very effective way of better reconciling our country’s economic and environmental goals and of achieving the conservation of important natural resources at a large scale.

America’s population and our economy are both growing, and we need appropriate, efficient, and effective development to support that growth. We also need to protect our natural resources to maintain our quality of life and ensure that our children and grandchildren will have the fortune of living in a prosperous, beautiful and healthy nation.

Those are not “either/or” choices; if we are smart and work together, we can do both. Proper and consistent use of mitigation is one of the keys to doing that.

Companies are also increasingly interested in mitigation as a strategy. It saves them time and money and reduces uncertainty, permitting delays, and the risk of litigation. This is especially true if it is approached at the landscape scale, focuses first and foremost on avoidance, and is considered in a collaborative manner very early on in the development process.

Applying mitigation at a landscape scale is particularly smart because it allows more effective engagement with state and local governments and helps avoid of the loss of key natural resources with multiple recreational, environmental, and other public benefits. When compensation is needed despite efforts to avoid and minimize harm, a landscape approach helps ensure that the compensation is both effective and lasting.

We encourage the Secretary to call on all Department of the Interior agencies to use their existing mitigation authorities within the many efforts currently underway to ensure robust mitigation outcomes that will conserve critical public resources.

In short, increasing and improving the use of mitigation is not a boring detail, but rather an important step recognizing that it is possible to accommodate needed investment in energy, transportation, and water management while at the same time protecting the nation’s most critical natural resources that our economy and the quality of our lives depend upon.

In other important news, the Secretary reiterated her support for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which supports national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, rivers and lakes, community parks, trails, and more in all 50 states.

We’ve long viewed LWCF as a common-sense and critical conservation program. It balances the use of one natural resource — oil and gas — with the conservation of another by using a portion of drilling fees to protect important land and water resources. But despite an increase in energy production, funding for land and water protection has been low and unpredictable. Full funding for LWCF would go a long way in addressing that imbalance.

Finally, Jewell also announced an initiative “to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work outdoors.”

I couldn’t agree more with her focus on educating and involving America’s young people in conservation, and I’m proud of our own efforts at the Conservancy to engage younger generations.

Getting it right on things like mitigation and strong funding for LWCF — efforts that balance human needs with the need to conserve nature — is a great way to start ensuring these younger Americans can be inspired by nature, and realize its very practical value to their lives.

[Image: Jalama Beach, north of Point Conception in California. Image source: Bill Pollard]

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  1. Hello Mr. Tercek!

    My name is Mark. I am a college student at Xavier University in Cincinnati. I really hope that you are able to read this! I looked in a variety of places that I might be able to contact you, but this seemed like a reasonable way.

    All my life I have had a desire to become a conservationist, and my life has been defined by the outdoors. It is now becoming clear to me that there is little else I could enjoy doing. I have one simple question for you, but your answer will likely have no small effect on my life’s trajectory. As the leader of one of the most significant conservation organizations on the planet, what in your view are the best professions for me to potentially pursue that will have the most opportunity to help make a difference?

    Thank you for your time,


    1. Hi Mark – thanks very much for your question. I often tell people that you don’t have to work directly in nature to make a difference for the environment. The environmental movement needs all sorts of people—scientists, politicians, businesspeople, writers, photographers, lawyers, historians—to succeed. At TNC, our staff, volunteers, and supporters have a wide variety of backgrounds. Each person’s expertise, whether it be science, marketing, finance, government relations or fundraising, to name just a few, is important to achieving our conservation goals.

      Pursue what you love, find what you’re good at, and then figure out how you can use those skills to help the environment. Environmental problems are multi-dimensional, so the greater the diversity of ideas, experiences and people we can bring to the table, the better off we’ll all be.

  2. Mitigation is a good concept. It’s what the founders of the conservation movement advocated. They just didn’t use that term. In my book, Lodge Spirit, I go off on a little bit of a tangent and provide a brief history of nature appreciation in America.
    I cover the naturalists of the 1800s who were responsible for initiating the nature appreciation and conservation movement. These naturalists argued strongly for the preservation of our wilderness and wildlife. However, they also recognized that cultural development and commerce must go on.

    The website, offers not only the book Lodge Spirit, but a variety of other books on the stories of naturalists like John Audubon, John Muir, Ernst Thompson Seton, Theodore Roosevelt, and John Burroughs.

    When arguing for mitigation,it’s helpful to have the perspective of how conservation has evolved in this country. The story was really quite remarkable.

  3. One career option for you is environmental science. I happen to know two men with this degree who are relatively successful. One does contract site evaluation work for the Air Force, and the other is the top ground water specialist in Colorado, and possibly the country. Both have doctorate degrees.

    There are two recommendations if you take the environmental sciences route. One is that you get an advanced degree, at least a masters and preferably a doctorate. The second, or possibly the first, requirement is that you have a specialty. You will need a body of knowledge and a set of skills that sets you apart from the crowd.

    It wouldn’t hurt if you knew the history of nature appreciation, or conservation, in America. You can find a brief history in the book Lodge Spirit. It’s available at

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