12:00 AM

Trump USDA nominee must protect public lands, water and wildlife

For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON (March 23, 2017)- The Senate Committee on Agriculture is holding a hearing on President Trump’s nomination of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Agriculture. 

In addition to implementing the nation’s food, agriculture and rural development policies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) serves a substantial role in conserving America’s natural resources and wildlife. USDA oversees 29 agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Managing approximately 30 percent of federal lands, the Forest Service is the only major national land management agency not within the U.S. Department of the Interior. In addition, the USDA administers the “Farm Bill,” which authorizes a wide array of conservation programs and is among the largest sources of conservation funding in the federal government.  

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark: 

“If confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue will be entrusted with tremendous stewardship responsibilities on both public and private lands, overseeing 190 million acres of national forest lands and watersheds, and a range of programs designed to improve conservation on private lands. Every American benefits from the conservation efforts of the USDA, and therefore the country needs to know how Mr. Perdue plans to safeguard our lands from the threats of climate change and protect essential water resources, wildlife and habitat.

“We deserve to know how Mr. Perdue will preserve conservation values at the USDA under an administration determined to eviscerate environmental protections for land, water and wildlife, and slash funding for science, climate change and conservation programs.”

Background on the Department of Agriculture:

  • The Secretary of Agriculture oversees about 100,000 employees and $140 billion. The Secretary oversees and implements many vital programs that impact our nation’s wildlife populations and natural areas, including forests, grasslands, prairielands and estuaries.

  • The USDA houses the U.S. Forest Service, which administers the nation's 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands, which encompass 193 million acres (780,000 km2).

  • National forests support more than 420 animals and plants listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and over 3,000 other at risk species. In addition, about 20 percent of the nation’s waters originate in national forests and some 180 million people rely on these sources for their drinking water. Water originating in our national forests has been valued at over $7 billion.

  • The USDA administers the Farm Bill which authorizes a wide array of conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The Farm Bill is among the largest sources of conservation funding in the federal government. Congress is likely to begin working to reauthorize the Farm Bill in 2017 and the Secretary of Agriculture will play a leading role in how that bill is updated and administered.

  • Two-thirds of threatened and endangered species rely on privately-owned land for their habitat needs. Most of this land is managed by farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, and the actions taken on those lands have a big impact on the health of ecosystems.

  • The Department of Agriculture also manages the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that, among other responsibilities, attempts to reduce wildlife conflicts with livestock operations in the West. This can include lethal control of wolves, coyotes and other predators.

Background on Sonny Perdue:

  • Perdue, 70, is well known for leading a prayer service at the state Capitol in Georgia in hopes of bringing an end to a 2007 drought.

  • He is a former Democrat who switched to the Republican party before serving as Georgia’s governor from 2003 to 2011.

  • Perdue has a strong agricultural background having grown up on a farm and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine. Although Georgia is not among the nation’s top ten agricultural states, it does have 42,000 farms.

  • Perdue is the founder of Atlanta-based Perdue Partners, a privately owned company that trades food and industrial products worldwide, according to Reuters. Gov. Perdue has run a grain and fertilizer business, and is co-founder of a global export company with his cousin, Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

  • If confirmed by the Senate, Perdue will replace departed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.