“I’ve had one of the greatest jobs a person could have working with a President who enabled me to lean forward and get stuff done—who wanted to fix problems and wanted to do great things for conservation. And he [President Trump] gave me that opportunity to push forward.”  — David Bernhardt, 53rd Interior Secretary (2019-2021)

Former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who finished his term on Wednesday, granted me an exclusive exit interview.

Here’s his biography:

David L. Bernhardt serves as the 53rd Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.  He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 11, 2019 and took office on the same day.  

As Secretary of the Interior, Bernhardt leads an agency with more than 70,000 employees who are stewards for 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other public lands. The department oversees the responsible development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters, is the largest supplier and manager of water in the 17 Western states, and upholds trust responsibilities to the 574 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

Bernhardt is an avid hunter and angler and recently served on the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He also led the International Boundary Commission between the United States and Canada and was responsible, along with his Canadian counterpart, for maintaining the 5,525 mile international boundary between these two nations. He has in-depth experience in legal matters concerning active regulations and rule-makings, with years of legal experience in both the government and the private sector. His expertise ranges from the Endangered Species Act to Outer-Continental leases, from mining royalties to Indian Affairs.

From 2001 to 2009, he held several positions within the Department of the Interior, including serving as Solicitor. Prior to that, he served then-Secretary Norton as a deputy solicitor, deputy chief of staff and counselor to the Secretary, and as director of Congressional and Legislative affairs and counselor to the Secretary.

Raised in Rifle, Colorado, Bernhardt earned a B.A. in political science with a minor in business administration from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in 1990. He graduated with honors from the George Washington University National Law Center in 1994 and is admitted to various state and federal court bars. He is married to Gena Bernhardt. They have two children and reside in Arlington, Virginia.

Here’s a list of topics discussed:

  • On President Trump’s conservation legacy
  • What they would have focused on if they had four more years
  • If Bernhardt had any regrets during his time in office
  • Concerns about pushes to move from multiple use to public use management of public land
  • Antiquities Act reforms (had they happened & Congress’ role)
  • Endangered Species Act reforms Trump admin ushered in
  • His advice to Biden Interior nominee Deb Haaland
  • His next steps


Listen on Apple Podcasts

Watch on YouTube


Photo Credit: Gabriella Hoffman, June 2019


  • Gabriella Hoffman

    Gabriella Hoffman is a Media Strategist and Award-Winning Outdoor Writer. She hosts the "District of Conservation" podcast and CFACT's original YouTube series "Conservation Nation." Learn more about her work at www.gabriellahoffman.com