ROBERT Bonnie, President Barack Obama's nominee to serve as undersecretary for natural resources and environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, showed his strong commitment to balancing the role of conservation on working lands and environmental needs during his July 23 confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee.
For the past four years, Bonnie has worked as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's senior adviser on environment and climate change.
When asked what challenges he has faced and helped overcome in recent years, Bonnie said he played an instrumental role last summer in working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency to give landowners flexibility on grazing options during the drought and in a way that would pass legal scrutiny. He also has helped NRCS target farm bill dollars to assist in drought mitigation.
The last two years have also brought difficult fire seasons, which Bonnie said required him to "think on the fly and work within the resources we had."
Bonnie said leveraging farm bill resources through partnerships and expanding on regional conservation efforts is "exactly the approach we need to take" during these times of tight budgets. He added that setting priorities helps utilize resources in a manner that best serves the public interest.
Bonnie noted that technical assistance is an "incredibly valuable role of NRCS" and said one of his goals would be to get people out from behind their desks to interact more with farmers.
In response to questions on the backlog of wetland determinations, Bonnie said, if confirmed, he would help reduce the backlog for those farmers who want to manage their operations and maintain wetlands in a reasonable manner.
Bonnie's nomination hearing coincided with USDA deputy secretary nominee Krysta Harden. Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) voiced enthusiasm for both nominees, and the committee approve the nominations last Thursday.