Robert Bonnie

Robert Bonnie

Former Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture

As a Rubenstein Fellow, Bonnie worked with students and faculty to address issues related to climate change and natural resource conservation, with a focus on rural America.

Through Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Catalyst Program, Bonnie led a project to assess rural attitudes on the environment in order to better engage rural Americans – who manage large portions of America’s lands and watersheds – in collaborative solutions to addressing environmental challenges. This work culminated in a policy report “Understanding Rural Attitudes Toward the Environment and Conservation in America.”

Bonnie also led a 2017-18 Bass Connections project team that developed policy proposals to meet the goals of the Mid-Century Decarbonization plan and a second Bass Connections project team in 2018-19 titled Rethinking the Endangered Species Act’s Implementation on Private, Working Lands. Bonnie also taught courses in the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Sanford School of Public Policy and mentored several Nicholas School Master’s students.

Bonnie is now the Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Senior Advisor on Climate at the USDA.


From August 2013 to January 2017, Robert Bonnie was the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In this role, Bonnie oversaw the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service on a variety of natural resource issues, including management of the 193 million acre National Forest and Grassland System, implementation of Farm Bill conservation programs on America's farms, ranches and forests, and climate change. From April 2009 to July 2013, Bonnie served as Senior Advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for environment and climate change. Prior to joining the USDA, Mr. Bonnie was Vice President for Land Conservation for the Environmental Defense Fund where he focused on developing incentives to reward farmers, ranchers and forest owners for stewardship activities on private lands. Mr. Bonnie has master degrees in forestry and environmental management from Duke University. He grew up on a farm in Kentucky and now lives in Virginia.

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Robert Bonnie News & Events

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27Mar, 2017

Bonnie Joins Biden-Harris Administration in Climate Role at USDA

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions| January 21, 2021 The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Wednesday that Robert Bonnie will join the agency as its deputy chief of staff for policy and senior advisor on climate. Bonnie accepted his new job after working as an executive in residence for Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for…

27Mar, 2017

Dividing Lines — and Common Ground — Between Rural and Urban Voters on Environmental Policy

Monday, February 17, 2020

DURHAM, N.C. — Rural and urban Americans are divided in their views on the environment, but common ground does exist, says a new report led by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.  “The urban/rural divide on the environment is real, but it centers not on differences in how much people value environmental protection…

27Mar, 2017

Understanding Rural Attitudes Toward the Environment and Conservation in America

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy SolutionsBy Robert Bonnie, Emily Pechar Diamond, and Elizabeth Rowe Rural Americans matter—a lot—to the fate of U.S. environmental policy. Not only do farmers, ranchers, and forest owners manage huge portions of American lands and watersheds, but rural voters also have an outsized impact on national policy. While rural Americans express…

"The Rubenstein Fellowship has provided me with a tremendous opportunity to work with faculty and students at the Nicholas School, the Nicholas Institute and the Sanford School to explore challenges in environmental conservation in rural America and to develop new policy approaches that can work for both rural constituencies and the environment."
- Robert Bonnie, 2017-19 Rubenstein Fellow

"One of the best parts of my Duke experience is that I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with people like Robert Bonnie, who are incredible leaders and experts in their fields … Robert has brought his substantial insider knowledge of environmental issues and politics in the US to our project, and has helped guide our team towards recommendations for carbon sequestration policies that might actually make a difference on a national scale."

Kendall DeLyser

Master of Environmental Management / Master of Forestry, Class of 2018

"Working with Robert on issues at the intersection of agriculture and climate change has been one of the highlights of my time as a graduate student at Duke. Having access to his incredible wealth of knowledge and insight into the policy-making process has been invaluable both to our Bass Connection project and to my broader educational experience here at Duke."

Danielle Arostegui

Master of Environmental Management, Class of 2018