Pick to lead U.S. Fish and Wildlife vows ‘collaborative conservation’ at agency

By: - November 17, 2021 3:59 pm

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director nominee Martha Williams (Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pledged Wednesday to let science guide decision-making at the agency and to collaborate with government and private partners.

Martha Williams, the former director for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that wildlife conservation was a shared responsibility.

She said collaborating with state, local and federal partners, along with private citizens and industry, was one of two central beliefs she brought to the agency.

“It is with a strong commitment to collaborative conservation that we can achieve our goals,” she said.

Her other central tenet was a commitment to scientific integrity. Two Republican senators raised issues Wednesday with the agency’s scientific findings.

U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, (R-N.D.), said federal definitions of wetlands sometimes defy common sense and frustrate farmers. He asked Williams to reverse the definition on a specific tract of land in his state. Williams offered to investigate the area’s wetlands definitions.

Before the hearing, Williams won the endorsement of Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who wrote a letter to Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas E. Carper, (D-Del.), and ranking Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia on Tuesday.

In the evenly divided U.S. Senate, the support of even a single Republican like Daines gives Williams more breathing room on her confirmation vote on the floor.

Daines wrote that Williams, as a veteran of state government, was wary of federal overreach and would empower state wildlife agencies. He said she recognized the problems with the Cottonwood decision, a federal judicial ruling that members of both parties have complained makes forest management more difficult.

“She also understands Montanans’ concerns with top-down, over-reaching policies and frustrations with bureaucratic regulatory challenges like those posed by the Cottonwood decision, has witnessed and even helped facilitate tremendous, state-led, wildlife conservation successes such as the sage grouse, gray wolf, and grizzly bear recovery in Montana,” he wrote.  “I believe Ms. Williams will bring a pragmatic, balanced approach to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Daines’ support contrasted with his position on Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning.

Daines was among the strongest opponents of Stone-Manning, who also led a Montana state agency under Bullock before Biden nominated her to direct a U.S. Interior agency. The Senate confirmed Stone-Manning along party lines in September, following a lengthy and acrimonious debate.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob Fischler covers federal policy as a senior reporter in the States Newsroom Washington bureau. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues as well as climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.