Embattled conservation group leader heads for exit

By Robin Bravender | 11/06/2023 04:28 PM EST

Jamie Rappaport Clark on Monday announced plans to leave Defenders of Wildlife after 12 years as the conservation group’s president and CEO.

Jamie Rappaport Clark (left) and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (right) at a House hearing.

Jamie Rappaport Clark (left), president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, speaks at a House Select Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in December 2008. Mark Wilson/Getty Images | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Jamie Rappaport Clark, the head of the Washington, D.C.-based conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, plans to step down from her post next year, she announced Monday.

The announcement comes after a tumultuous few years for Clark and the nonprofit, including complaints by current and former employees — reported by POLITICO’s E&E News — that Clark had established a “culture of fear” within the organization, where questioning leadership wasn’t tolerated and employees worried they might be fired without notice.

The group, whose mission is to protect wildlife and habitats, laid off staff earlier this year, citing the “economic and social climate.” The organization has also witnessed high staff turnover and an ongoing feud between management and an employee union that formed in 2021.


Clark, who has led the group for 12 years, will remain on the job while the organization’s board of directors conducts a search for her replacement, the group said in a statement.

“I have dedicated my career to conservation and believe at this point in my life that I can have a greater impact for wildlife by applying my passion, knowledge and expertise in a different way,” Clark said in a statement. “I look forward to focusing my time and energy more directly on pressing conservation challenges impacting imperiled species and important landscapes and helping foster the next generation of wildlife conservationists.”

Clark is a biologist by training who led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton Administration. She first joined Defenders of Wildlife in 2004 and was named president and CEO of the organization in 2011 when Rodger Schlickeisen retired from the role.

Mark Caylor, chair of the group’s board of directors, called Clark “an icon in the conservation movement” and said she will be “dearly missed.”

On her watch, the group said, Defenders launched a Center for Conservation Innovation while expanding its field presence to the Northwest, Southeast, Texas and New Mexico.

Clark has been among the highest-paid leaders of national environmental groups, according to an E&E News review of nonprofits’ tax filings. The group’s most recent publicly available tax filing shows that Clark earned $599,128 in 2021, a figure that included her salary, bonus and other benefits.

“We wish Jamie all the best in her future endeavors and look forward to building a collaborative relationship with her successor,” said Defenders employee Ted Weber on behalf of the staff union’s bargaining committee.