James Gaius Watt is a former United States Secretary of the Interior. He took a highly controversial position on the issue of conservation.
Watt was born in Lusk, Wyoming, in 1938. He worked as head of the Mountain States Legal Foundation in
Denver, before President Ronald Reagan appointed him head of the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1981. Many environmentalists were furious at Watt's appointment as Secretary, for they saw him as an anti-environmentalist. Yet, Watt claimed that he was doing what was best for the American people.
Watt dealt with numerous conservation issues while in office, and many of his actions infuriated environmentalists. He cut funding for programs designed to protect
endangered species. He removed environmental regulatory power from the federal government and favored the elimination of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was used to increase the amount of land in national parks and forests. Watt, in fact, wanted wilderness areas to be opened for oil and gas leases, and he proposed selling these lands at low prices.
Many of Watt's beliefs made him unpopular with Republicans and Democrats alike, and many environmental
organizations petitioned for his removal from office, collecting a total of 1.1 million signatures in support of this action. Most felt that Watt favored development over conservation. The U.S. Senate drafted a resolution to dismiss him, but before it was acted upon Watt himself resigned in 1983.