President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the US Fish and Wildlife Service pledged Wednesday to let science guide decision-making at the agency and to work with government and private partners.
Martha Williams, former director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that wildlife conservation is a shared responsibility.
She said collaborating with state, local, and federal partners, as well as 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.
Its other central tenet was a commitment to scientific integrity. Two Republican senators raised questions Wednesday with the agency’s scientific findings.
U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer, RN.D., said federal definitions of wetlands sometimes defy common sense and frustrate farmers. He asked Williams to reverse the definition on a specific piece of land in his state. Williams offered to study the definitions of wetlands in the region.
Prior to the hearing, Williams secured the endorsement of Republican Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who wrote a letter to Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas E. Carper, D-Del., and Republican filing Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia on Tuesday.
In the equally divided U.S. Senate, the support of even a single Republican like Daines gives Williams more leeway in his confirmation vote on the floor.
Daines wrote that Williams, as a veteran of state government, was wary of the federal government’s overreach and would empower state wildlife agencies.
Who will manage the grizzlies?
Daines, who is not a member of the panel and was not at Wednesday’s hearing, wrote that he hoped Williams would allow the state to have primary management of the grizzly bear’s recovery.
But responding to a question from Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., during the hearing, Williams said the federal government would lead grizzly bear management in Montana.
She said state authorities should direct fish and wildlife management unless federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act do not apply. apply. Grizzlies are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Lummis seemed pleased with Williams’ response on federalism, but was less pleased with her response to the potential removal of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem, which includes parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, the endangered species act list.
Williams said she would support the long-term recovery of the grizzly bear population and would follow federal law and the underlying science to achieve that goal.
Lummis said grizzly bears have recovered sufficiently, reaching previous population benchmarks.
“It’s been a long-term recovery, and they’re recovered,” Lummis said. “Every goal has been achieved… I think what I’m hearing you say is that you’re not willing to consider delisting.”
Williams said she didn’t want to dismiss the idea outright, but disagreed that all of the federal law’s goals had been met. While population numbers were robust, grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region failed to meet all five criteria necessary for delisting.
Williams has exercised the authority of the Director of the FWS as Principal Deputy Director of the office since Inauguration Day. This position does not require Senate approval. Biden named her Senate Confirmed Director last month.
Williams led Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks from 2017 to 2020 under Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, according to a biography on the FWS website.
Before becoming director of the state agency, she worked there for more than 20 years as a legal adviser, according to Daines’ letter.
Williams served as assistant parks and wildlife attorney at the U.S. Department of the Interior from 2011 to 2013.