Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 20, 2018

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Public Records Sought on Connection Between Trump Wildlife Agency Nominee, Montana Political Circles

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a Freedom of Information Act request today seeking public records documenting meetings between top Interior Department officials, Aurelia Skipwith — Trump’s nominee to direct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — and Skipwith’s fiancée, Leo Giacometto.

The request for records follows reporting by The Guardian documenting the web of connections between Giacometto, Skipwith, outgoing secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Montana politicians.

Giacometto is a long-time lobbyist and Montana political operative. He served in the Montana Legislature and was the director of agriculture for Gov. Marc Racicot, as well as the chief of staff for the late Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). His lobbying firm, Gage International, employs A.J. Rehberg, the son of former Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg.

“Cronyism is a way of life in the Trump administration, and the public has every right to know the details behind each nomination, especially one that’s so important to the fate of our most endangered species,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “With Zinke heading out the door, it is even more important for the public to have a full understanding of Skipworth’s connections to these Montana politicians and special interests before the Senate votes on her confirmation.”

In 2014 Skipwith and Giacometto founded AVC Global, an agricultural company. Skipwith became chief counsel at AVC in 2016. After Trump’s election she was one of the first political operatives to arrive at the Department of the Interior, when in April 2017 she was appointed deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

In October 2018 Skipwith was nominated to be the next director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It’s odd and totally unprecedented that someone with no wildlife conservation or fisheries experience has been nominated to oversee such large and important agency,” Hartl said. “During her limited time at the Department of the Interior, she helped enable the most anti-environmental agenda in the history of this nation. Giving her free rein at the Fish and Wildlife Service would be a disaster.” 

During Skipwith’s tenure as deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly put the interests of industry ahead of imperiled wildlife, including an unprecedented weakening of nationwide protections for endangered species and migratory birds.

Skipwith has repeatedly put the interests of the pesticide industry ahead of wildlife.  Records that the Center obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that she was integral in a decision to reverse a 2014 decision prohibiting bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides on national wildlife refuges. She also helped derail the first nationwide assessments of the impacts of pesticides on endangered species. In her current position within the Interior Department, Skipwith was party to the National Park Service’s illegal “review” of the national monument system that enabled President Trump to roll back large-scale protections for Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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