Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Department of the Interior; Attorney, Environmental Defense Fund
Interview Year: 2015
Michael Bean was fascinated by snakes and other critters as a boy growing up in a small Iowa town near the Mississippi River. As a young man, he was “acutely aware that the places that I had enjoyed exploring as a kid were increasingly encroached upon by development and the loss of habitat and then the loss of some of the creatures I cared about.” Today, he is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior. This post is a fitting capstone to a career as the leading lawyer, author, advocate, and innovator in the protection of wildlife and habitat in America.
After a brief stint in private practice, Bean joined the Environmental law Institute where he wrote The Evolution of National Wildlife Law, a book now in its third edition, and still the leading text on the subject. He then served for 30 years as an attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund. EDF was already a potent environmental litigating organization known for its early victory in winning the deregistration of the pesticide DDT because of its harm to wildlife. Like the Natural Resources Defense Council, EDF evolved into a respected law and advocacy organization with a broad agenda of environmental objectives and priorities.
Reflecting on his long tenure at EDF, Bean observes the transition from a strategy first and foremost to “sue the bastards” to a broader search for “ways that work,” many involving collaboration with the private sector and the use of market mechanisms to achieve environmental results more efficiently.
In his work at the Department of Interior, Bean has stressed the value of providing incentives such as Safe Harbor agreements to reward private-property owners for taking action to protect wildlife, especially endangered species, on their property in return for limited potential restrictions on property use. He likes to think he had “some small impact on turning the tables for at least some species that were headed toward extinction and now have a better chance of survival in the long term,” a modest assessment of an exemplary career.