TUCSON, Ariz.— Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is the winner of the Center for Biological Diversity’s 2019 Rubber Dodo award. The statue is awarded each year to the person or group who has most aggressively sought to destroy America's natural heritage or drive endangered species extinct.
Bernhardt, a longtime lobbyist for polluters, has worked to gut key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, suppressed data showing that pesticides harm at least 1,400 protected species, and was under inspector general investigation just four days after he became Interior secretary. He has also opened vast tracts of public land to oil and gas drilling and fueled the wildlife extinction crisis by delaying protections for imperiled animals and plants across the country.
“Bernhardt has been a one-man wrecking ball when it comes to wildlife, public lands and the planet,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “He was a shameless shill for polluters before he came to Interior, and as secretary he’s exploited his power to do their bidding at every turn.”
Bernhardt won the Rubber Dodo award after an online contest in which more than 10,000 people cast their votes. Other nominees were EPA Administration Andrew Wheeler, Donald Trump Jr., and White House aide Stephen Miller.
Previous Rubber Dodo award winners include President Donald Trump (2018), Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (2017), Rep. Rob Bishop (2016), Monsanto (2015), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services (2014), the Koch brothers (2013), climate denier Senator James Inhofe (2012), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2011), former BP CEO Tony Hayward (2010), massive land speculator Michael Winer (2009), Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (2008) and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (2007).
Background on the Dodo
In 1598 Dutch sailors landing on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius discovered a flightless, 3-foot-tall, extraordinarily friendly bird. Its original scientific name was Didus ineptus. (Contemporary scientists use the less defamatory Raphus cucullatus.) To the rest of the world, it's the dodo — possibly the most famous extinct species on Earth after the dinosaurs. It evolved over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually lost the ability to fly, becoming a land-based consumer of fruits, nuts and berries. Having never known predators, it showed no fear of humans or the menagerie of animals accompanying them to Mauritius.
Its trusting nature led to its rapid extinction. By 1681 the dodo had vanished, hunted and outcompeted by humans, dogs, cats, rats, macaques and pigs. Humans logged its forest cover while pigs uprooted and ate much of the understory vegetation.
The origin of the name dodo is unclear. It likely came from the Dutch word dodoor, meaning “sluggard,” the Portuguese word doudo, meaning “fool” or “crazy,” or the Dutch word dodaars meaning “plump-arse” (that nation’s name for the little grebe).
The dodo’s reputation as a foolish, ungainly bird derives in part from its friendly naiveté and the very plump captives that were taken on tour across Europe. The animal's reputation was cemented with the 1865 publication of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Based on skeleton reconstructions and the discovery of early drawings, scientists now believe that the dodo was a much sleeker animal than commonly portrayed. The rotund European exhibitions were likely produced by overfeeding captive birds.