In this interview recorded on July 25, 2019, John Taliaferro discusses the extraordinary life of George Bird Grinnell, largely forgotten to conservation history. His book, Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer & His Restless Drive to Save the West, is published by Liveright Publishing, a division of W. W. Norton.
Grinnell is credited with being the first person of European descent to explore what is today Glacier National Park, as well as being instrumental in its creation
He was a founder of the Audubon Society and published The Audubon Magazine.
Grinnell was a prolific writer on many topics, including hunting, conservation, the ethnology of numerous Native American tribes, and novels about Jack, a Western boy.
Childless himself, he wrote the “Jack” books for his nephews:
With us for the full hour is former Dept. of Interior top climate policy official, whistle-blower and dare-I-say refusnik vis-a-vis the Trump administration, Joel Clement. He resigned from the Dept. of Interior effective on Oct. 6th, 2017 after having been involuntarily reassigned to what was basically an accounting job. He fills us in on the details of that and much more in this edition of Forthright Radio.
But first a short memorial to Native American activist, Dennis Banks, who died on Oct. 29, 2017.Joel Clement is a science and policy expert with a background in resilience and climate adaptation, landscape-scale conservation and management, Arctic social-ecological systems, and biodiversity studies. As Director of the Department of the Interior’s Policy Office, he led a talented team of policy analysts and economists, provided advice and analysis for White House leadership and two Interior Secretaries, and was appointed as the Department of the Interior’s principal to the US Global Change Research Program. Before entering service in the federal Government in 2010, Joel Clement was the Conservation Science Program Officer for The Wilberforce Foundation in Seattle, which supports and connects organizations and individuals that are committed to protecting wild places and the wildlife that depend on them. While there, he focused on climate change adaptation strategies, landscape-scale conservation, and improving geospatial data-sharing capacity in the North American West. Prior to his career in philanthropy, Joel spent a decade as a field biologist, developing and contributing to research and conservation science programs in temperate and tropical ecosystems around the world. Throughout his career, Joel has remained focused on the critical need to bridge gaps between science and policy. Joel was awarded The Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage in September, 2017, for blowing the whistle on the Trump Administration. He resigned from public service on October 6th with a scathing indictment of Secretary Ryan Zinke, which was published in the Washington Post. On October 18 called for Zinke’s resignation in a CNN OP-ed. See below.
A day after the interview, The Global Change Research Program, on which Joel Clement had served, released their report on climate change, which can be viewed at this site:
The same day (after our interview) we learned that with the support of the Government of Sweden & the Stockholm Environment Institute, Joel Clement is traveling to Stockholm (Nov. 8) & Bonn (Nov. 10-13) to attend the COP23 Climate Change Conference. He is to speak about resilience, particularly as it pertains to the Arctic, and the US/Sweden collaboration that has led to world-class reports and action agendas. He writes, “As the only public Trump Administration whistle-blower so far, I will also plan to speak about what is happening inside the US federal government, including but not limited to the absurd war on science and fact, and reflect upon opportunities and constraints for solving our resilience and climate change dilemmas here in the US (which of course includes Puerto Rico!).” Joel Clement’s resignation letter
4 October, 2017 Greg Gould, Director, Office of Natural Resources Revenue
Greg, please accept my resignation as Senior Advisor at ONRR, effective Friday October 6, 2017. It has been such a great pleasure working with you and your team despite the circumstances surrounding my reassignment to ONRR. Joel Clement
Secretary Ryan Zinke U.S. Department of the Interior Washington, DC
Dear Secretary Zinke,
I hereby resign my position as Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). The career men and women of DOI serve because they believe in DOI’s mission to protect our nation’s natural and cultural resources and they believe that service to this country is a responsibility and an honor. I’m proud to have served at DOI alongside such devoted public servants, and I share their dedication to the mission and country, so it is with a heavy heart that I am resigning as a senior official at the Department. I have three reasons for my resignation:
Poor Leadership. I blew the whistle on the Trump administration because I believe you unlawfully retaliated against me for disclosing the perilous impacts of climate change upon Alaska Native communities and for working to help get them out of harm’s way. The investigations into my whistle-blower complaints are ongoing and I hope to prevail. Retaliating against civil servants for raising health and safety concerns is unlawful, but there are many more items to add to your resume of failure: You and President Trump have waged an all-out assault on the civil service by muzzling scientists and policy experts like myself; you conducted an arbitrary and sloppy review of our treasured National Monuments to score political points; your team has compromised tribal sovereignty by limiting programs meant to serve Indians and Alaska Natives; you are undercutting important work to protect the western sage grouse and its habitat; you eliminated a rule that prevented oil and gas interests from cheating taxpayers on royalty payments; you cancelled the moratorium on a failed coal leasing program that was also shortchanging taxpayers; and you even cancelled a study into the health risks of people living near mountaintop removal coal mines after rescinding a rule that would have protected their health. You have disrespected the career staff of the Department by questioning their loyalty and you have played fast and loose with government regulations to score points with your political base at the expense of American health and safety. Secretary Zinke, your agenda profoundly undermines the DOI mission and betrays the American people.
Waste of Taxpayer Dollars. My background is in science, policy, and climate change. You reassigned me to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue. My new colleagues were as surprised as I was by the involuntary reassignment to a job title with no duties in an office that specializes in auditing and dispersing fossil fuel royalty income. They acted in good faith to find a role for me, and I deeply appreciate their efforts. In the end, however, reassigning and training me as an auditor when I have no background in that field will involve an exorbitant amount of time and effort on the part of my colleagues, incur significant taxpayer expense, and create a situation in which these talented specialists are being led by someone without experience in their field. I choose to save them the trouble, save taxpayer dollars, and honor the organization by stepping away to find a role more suited to my skills. Secretary Zinke, you and your fellow high-flying Cabinet officials have demonstrated over and over that you are willing to waste taxpayer dollars, but I’m not.
Climate Change Is Real and It’s Dangerous. I have highlighted the Alaska Native communities on the brink in the Arctic, but many other Americans are facing climate impacts head-on. Families in the path of devastating hurricanes, businesses in coastal communities experiencing frequent and severe flooding, fishermen pulling up empty nets due to warming seas, medical professionals working to understand new disease vectors, farming communities hit by floods of biblical proportions, and owners of forest lands laid waste by invasive insects. These are just a few of the impacts Americans face. If the Trump administration continues to try to silence experts in science, health and other fields, many more Americans, and the natural ecosystems upon which they depend, will be put at risk. The solutions and adaptations to these impacts will be complex, but exponentially less difficult and expensive than waiting until tragedy strikes – as we have seen with Houston, Florida, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico – and there is no time to waste. We must act quickly to limit climate change while also preparing for its impacts.
Secretary Zinke: It is well known that you, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, and President Trump are shackled to special interests such as oil, gas, and mining. You are unwilling to lead on climate change, and cannot be trusted with our nation’s natural resources. So for those three compelling reasons – poor leadership, waste, and your failures on climate change, I tender my resignation. The best use of my skills is to join with the majority of Americans who understand what’s at stake, working to find ways to innovate and thrive despite the many hurdles ahead. You have not silenced me; I will continue to be an outspoken advocate for action, and my voice will be part of the American chorus calling for your resignation so that someone loyal to the interests of all Americans, not just special interests, can take your job. My thoughts and wishes are with the career women and men who remain at DOI. I encourage them to persist when possible, resist when necessary, and speak truth to power so the institution may recover and thrive once this assault on its mission is over. Joel Clement 4 October, 2017
I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trumpadministration. By Joel Clement July 19, 2017
(Joel Clement was director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Department until last week. He is now a senior adviser at the department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue.)
I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government. I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science. Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I’ve helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to “improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,” the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.
I am not an accountant — but you don’t have to be one to see that the administration’s excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn’t add up. A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers. Some of my colleagues are being relocated across the country, at taxpayer expense, to serve in equally ill-fitting jobs.
I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.
On Wednesday, I filed two forms — a complaint and a disclosure of information — with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. I filed the disclosure because eliminating my role coordinating federal engagement and leaving my former position empty exacerbate the already significant threat to the health and the safety of certain Alaska Native communities. I filed the complaint because the Trump administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger. Our country values the safety of our citizens, and federal employees who disclose threats to health and safety are protected from reprisal by the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.
Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods. The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean. In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country.
Alaska’s elected officials know climate change presents a real risk to these communities. Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) have been sounding the alarm and scrambling for resources to help these villages. But to stave off a life-threatening situation, Alaska needs the help of a fully engaged federal government. Washington cannot turn its back. While I have given small amounts to Democratic candidates in the past, I have no problem whatsoever working for a Republican administration. I believe that every president, regardless of party, has the right and responsibility to implement his policies. But that is not what is happening here. Putting citizens in harm’s way isn’t the president’s right. Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great.
Now that I have filed with the Office of Special Counsel, it is my hope that it will do a thorough investigation into the Interior Department’s actions. Our country protects those who seek to inform others about dangers to American lives. The threat to these Alaska Native communities is not theoretical. This is not a policy debate. Retaliation against me for those disclosures is unlawful. Let’s be honest: The Trump administration didn’t think my years of science and policy experience were better suited to accounts receivable. It sidelined me in the hope that I would be quiet or quit. Born and raised in Maine, I was taught to work hard and speak truth to power. Trump and Zinke might kick me out of my office, but they can’t keep me from speaking out. They might refuse to respond to the reality of climate change, but their abuse of power cannot go unanswered. Secretary Zinke, it’s time to call it quits By Joel Clement (CNN)
Secretary Ryan Zinke, last week I turned in my US Department of the Interior credentials and reluctantly walked away from public service. Today, I call on you to do the same and resign as secretary of the Interior. Since you were sworn in on March 1, you have demonstrated contempt for the agency’s mission and its devoted employees. As I described in my resignation letter, I quit my position because of your spectacularly poor leadership, reckless waste of taxpayer dollars and disregard for the dangers of climate change — all of which are putting American well-being and the economy at risk.
You and your deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, have no strategic vision of your own and are dedicated to President Donald Trump’s special interests first, Americans last model. As Trump flunkies, you are eliminating anything the previous administration touched, you are marginalizing scientists and experts, and you are blithely disabling the agency so special interests can move in and snatch public lands out of the public’s hands.
DOI has a unique set of responsibilities in the federal family, and your resume of failure impacts every single facet of the DOI mission. You have shown contempt for the conservation mission by conducting a sloppy review of our treasured national monuments to score political points. Your review was of an arbitrary list of monuments and your recommendations to the President, captured in an error-filled memorandum to the White House, were seemingly based on an unclear and inconsistent set of criteria. And you conducted this review while hypocritically recommending a new national monument for Montana, where you hope to advance your political career. Astonishingly, you’re also moving to undercut the Western sage grouse conservation plans that were so carefully developed by bipartisan federal, state and local partners across the West. Even Republican Gov. Matt Mead from Wyoming has expressed public concern over what you are trying to do. Unlike you, those partners understand that if that bird lands on the endangered list, Western economies will pay the price. For years, collaborators in the West have been working hard to prevent a conflict in which the sage grouse and its habitat require stringent protections that can impact local economies.
You have also been reckless with DOI’s resource leasing mission. You eliminated a rule that helped prevent oil, gas and coal companies from cheating American taxpayers on royalty payments. You canceled a moratorium on a failed coal leasing program that is also cheating taxpayers. And you had the audacity to cancel a study into the health risks of people living near mountaintop-removal coal mines after rescinding a rule that would have protected their health. If not for the intervention of a US District Court, you also would have suspended a methane rule that will save hundreds of millions of dollars, provide energy for American homes and restrict harmful methane emissions. In addition to your conservation and resource extraction failures, you have left the imperiled Alaska Native villages of the Arctic to fend for themselves and you reneged on your day one promise to prioritize American Indian sovereignty by curtailing programs meant to serve American Indians and Alaska Natives. Your failures will be amplified by climate change, and it’s not only the Alaska Native villages that are on the front lines now. Worried families sit in the path of devastating hurricanes, businesses in coastal communities are already experiencing frequent and severe flooding, fishermen along our coasts are pulling up empty nets due to warming seas, farming communities are being hit by floods of biblical proportions and medical professionals are scrambling to understand new disease vectors. Climate change is real and has consequences for Americans, our natural and cultural heritage, and our economy. If you and President Trump continue to muzzle experts in science, health and other fields while handing over the keys to special interests, these consequences will be far more harmful. Harvey, Irma and Maria were monster storms made worse by climate change, but their damage was amplified exponentially by a lack of urban resilience, deregulation on steroids and an ongoing disregard for environmental justice. These problems will only grow worse if special interests maintain their grip on the agencies that are supposed to be looking out for Americans.
Working to undermine the agency you were charged with leading is not just a betrayal of those who work there; it is a betrayal of the Americans the agency serves. Americans deserve a secretary who will protect America’s natural resources rather than pander to corporate interests; they deserve a secretary who will rise to new challenges rather than rebuke civil servants; they deserve a secretary who will be frugal with the agency’s limited resources rather than fly private jets on at least three occasions and then hold fundraisers and photo shoots (a story you have called “a little BS”); they deserve a secretary who will foster American well-being rather than flatter his own political ambitions. Secretary Zinke, you should resign effective immediately.
Trump Administration and BLM Are Choosing Special Interests Over Taxpayershttps://www.greenamerica.org/blog/trump-administration-and-blm-are-choosing-special-interests-over-taxpayers
There is nothing efficient for the environment or our wallets when natural gas is vented and flared at production sites. These practices redistribute chemicals from the gas wells into our public air and waterways. Flaring refers to burning gas that is not economical to collect for profit – depending on the chemical structure of what’s being burned, flaring can release air pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde, hexane, and 60 more toxins. Venting is the release of methane gas into the atmosphere, and is practiced at varying times throughout the oil and gas process. It poses an even greater threat to the environment and our health than flaring, and that’s saying something. When these practices are conducted on public lands, it comes out of the pockets of US taxpayers. Every year, oil and gas companies waste $330 million dollars’ worth of taxpayer-owned natural gas through these wasteful practices that have significant health and environmental consequences. That’s enough natural gas to meet the needs of Chicago. In 2016, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took action to reduce this costly burden through the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, which takes a cost-effective and common-sense approach to curbing methane waste and modernizing how energy is produced and utilized throughout the country. Individuals, organizations, and many oil and gas companies and trade groups all agree this rule is an economically effective way to deal with the problem of methane waste. Taxpayers would benefit from the estimated $800 million in royalties over the next decade if the rule is enforced.
Here’s the Problem: Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke and President Trump are now trying to suspend this essential BLM rule. By delaying the BLM methane rule, and working to overturn it, the Trump administration has made it extremely clear they are comfortable wasting taxpayer money and publicly-owned American energy, while allowing pollutants into the air which will increase rates of asthma attacks in children, all in order to help the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry should not be given special treatment at our expense, especially since small businesses across the country are following or exceeding environmental regulations. Green America’s Business Network has thousands of US companies that adhere to standards which protect the environment, workers, nearby communities, and generate revenue. If a small business can be profitable while protecting our health and the environment, certainly major companies with ample resources can rise to the challenge of responsibly cleaning up their by-products. That’s why thousands of green businesses from Green America’s network and from the American Sustainable Business Council support methane regulation and supported the BLM’s rulemaking to regulate flaring and venting. Time to Push Back: Despite a recent court decision that overturned BLM’s last effort to delay this rule and found BLM’s arguments to be arbitrary and capricious, the agency is pushing forward with this new rule delay (and will work to water down the rule) to ensure that tax dollars will keep being wasted in this environmentally costly process. What’s worse is that BLM has set a pitifully short 30 day comment period for the public to submit their concerns– so we must act today in order to protect this critical rule. Green America and its individual and business members will oppose the delay of this important rule, and will continue to push back against the fossil fuel industry and their allies in the Trump Administration.
Ryan Zinke rides his horse Tonto in Washington. Photograph: Alamy Since he took over the department, Zinke has also resurrected an arcane military ritual, requiring staff to hoist the department flag above the building whenever he enters.
Zinke calls himself a ‘Teddy Roosevelt guy’ – but he’s quietly dismantling environmental protections and yielding to oil industry interests. Montana-born interior secretary Ryan Zinke meticulously crafts his image as wilderness-loving western cowboy and sportsman. But nine months into his job at the Department of the Interior, the federal agency that oversees most public lands and natural resources, the act is wearing thin with environmentalists and outdoors enthusiasts who say his early moves demonstrate strong allegiance to the oil, gas and other extractive industries seeking access to some of America’s most spectacular protected landscapes. He has reversed an Obama-era ban on coal mining on public lands, and proposed changes that would shrink the borders of four national monuments set aside by previous presidents. His agency has taken early steps to open the door to oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – one of the most symbolic and fiercely protected sites of the American environmental movement. He’s announced plans to repeal an important fracking safety rule, and loosened safety guidelines for underwater drilling, both major shifts away from Obama-era environmental protection regulations.
10 National Monuments at Risk Under Trump’s Administration
The US interior secretary has identified a total of 10 national monuments to reshape or re-purpose in order to allow for logging, mining and grazing
Bears Ears Designated in December 2016 by Barack Obama, Bears Ears national monument is a 1.35m-acre expanse of mesas, buttes and Native American archaeological sites that sprawls across south-eastern Utah. Its many splendors include a series of stunning rock bridges as well as the aptly named Grand Gulch, an intricate canyon system thick with thousand-year-old ruins. Grand Staircase-Escalante A whopping 1.9m acres, south-central Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante was set aside by Bill Clinton in 1996 and is the largest terrestrial national monument in the US. It contains a series of gigantic plateaus and cliffs, the Grand Staircase, as well as a string of deep gorges known as the Escalante River Canyons. Cascade-Siskiyou The first national monument established solely to protect its rich biodiversity, Clinton deemed the Cascade-Siskiyou an “ecological wonderland” when he protected it at about 52,000 acres in 2000. In his final week in office, Obama responded to calls from local conservationists and scientists and expanded the monument, adding approximately 48,000 acres.
Gold Butte Covering nearly 300,000 acres of remote desert north-east of Las Vegas, the Gold Butte monument was created by Obama in December 2016. Its chiseled red sandstone towers, canyons and mountains contain a treasure trove of rock art and are an important habitat for species such as the Mojave desert tortoise, bighorn sheep and the mountain lion.
Katahdin Woods and Waters Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees cosmetics, and her foundation purchased tracts of land in the northern reaches of Maine with the purpose of creating a national park. When this plan was opposed by various state and federal politicians, Obama stepped in to create a 87,000-acre national monument, dominated by mountains and lush forests. Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Another Obama creation, the marine monument was designated in September 2016 and sits off the New England coast. The area was protected to safeguard an ecosystem of deep sea corals, three species of whale and an endangered species of sea turtle, the Kemp’s ridley.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks A huge monument, spanning nearly 500,000 acres and proclaimed in May 2014. There are several hundred known archaeological sites in this mountainous stretch of New Mexico, including some of the earliest-known native American settlements. In the 1960s, US astronauts used the area to train for lunar missions. Zinke calls himself a ‘Teddy Roosevelt guy’ – but he’s quietly dismantling environmental protections and yielding to oil industry interests. Pacific Remote Islands Declared by President George W Bush in 2009 and expanded by Obama in 2014, the monument covers 480,000 square miles in marine areas to the south and west of Hawaii. The scattered reserve contains rare birds, trees and grasses as well as largely untouched coral reefs. Rio Grande Del Norte Found at an average elevation of 7,000ft, this New Mexico monument was created in 2013. The area is riddled with volcanic cones, with the Rio Grande flowing through an 800ft gorge in the layers of volcanic basalt flows and ash. The monument has several archaeological sites and is considered a key wildlife corridor for migrating animals. Zinke calls himself a ‘Teddy Roosevelt guy’ – but he’s quietly dismantling environmental protections and yielding to oil industry interests Rose Atoll The enormous 8.5m acre monument in the south Pacific was declared by Bush in January 2009. Rare petrels, shearwaters and terns are found there, as well as giant clams, reef sharks and rose-coloured corals. It is considered by the Fish & Wildlife Service as the most important seabird habitat in the region.