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Williams’ nomination to head Fish and Wildlife has conservation backing

Martha Williams

The Biden administration has nominated a second Montanan to a top position in the Department of the Interior, and she has strong support from the conservation community.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced he would nominate Martha Williams for the next director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In January, Williams was tapped to be the USFWS principle deputy director after serving as Montana’s director of Fish, Wildlife & Parks since 2017.

“Martha brings with her decades of experience, deep knowledge, and a passion for conservation, wildlife management, and natural resources stewardship,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “I look forward to continuing to work with her as the Department carries out its mission to protect America’s most precious resources and as we answer President Biden’s call to action to conserve, connect, and restore the lands, waters, and wildlife upon which we all depend on.”

Williams previously worked in the Department of the Interior as Deputy Solicitor for Parks and Wildlife between 2011 and 2013, providing counsel to the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Following that, she was an assistant professor at the Blewett School of Law at the University of Montana where she had received her law degree.

On Friday, conservation and sportsman’s groups threw their support behind Williams’ nomination, including the National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Center for Western Priorities, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“As a fellow Montanan, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Martha in support of our fish and wildlife populations and enhancing access to our public lands and waters,” said Land Tawney, president of Missoula-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, in a release. “She’s a hunter and angler who understands our community’s values, and I’m confident she’ll bring them to infuse her work in Washington, D.C. We’re fortunate to have her there working on our behalf.”

Aaron Weiss of the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities said Williams could lead the agency in the administration’s effort to conserve wild lands for future generations.

“Martha Williams is exceptionally qualified to lead the Fish and Wildlife Service. The planet is on the brink of a sixth mass extinction, so America needs experienced and passionate leadership at the agency responsible for protecting and restoring endangered species,” Weiss said in a release.

Williams will have to go through the Senate confirmation process before she gets the job. Her hearing may not be scheduled for a couple months as Congress works to pass infrastructure and budget bills before the end of the year.

Collin O’Mara, National Wildlife Federation president, encouraged the Senate to act swiftly.

“From her time leading the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to her service as the principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, she has consistently demonstrated a science-based approach to recovering imperiled species, a commitment to partnering with Tribes on shared conservation objectives, a passion for ensuring all people have the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, and extensive experience in the collaborative conservation of the full diversity of wildlife,” O’Mara said in a release.

On Oct. 1, more than five months after her nomination, the Senate confirmed Missoula resident Tracy Stone-Manning as the head of the Bureau of Land Management.

After waiting nine months for a nominee to be announced for the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, several groups and biologists prodded the Biden administration to choose Bozeman biologist Mike Phillips for the position. The proposal got little traction.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.