President Joe Biden’s candidate for head of the US Fish and Wildlife Service pledged Wednesday to let science guide decision-making within the agency and to work with government and private partners.
Martha Williams, former director of the Montana Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Parks, told the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works that wildlife conservation is a shared responsibility.
She said working with state, local and federal partners, as well as with private citizens and industry, was one of the two core beliefs she brought to the agency.
“It is with a strong commitment to collaborative conservation that we can achieve our goals,” she said.
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Its other central tenet was a commitment to scientific integrity. Two Republican senators raised issues Wednesday with the agency’s scientific findings.
US 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 parcel of land in his state. Williams offered to study the definitions of wetlands in the region.
Prior to the hearing, Williams obtained the approval of Republican Senator from Montana, Steve Daines, who wrote a letter to Environment and Public Works President Thomas E. Carper (D-Del.) and Republican Ranking Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia on Tuesday.
In the equally divided US Senate, the support of a single Republican like Daines gives Williams more leeway in his confirmation vote.
Daines wrote that Williams, as a state government veteran, was wary of federal reach and would empower the state’s wildlife agencies. He said she recognized the problems with the Cottonwood ruling, a federal court ruling that members of both sides have complained about is making forest management more difficult.
“She also understands the concerns of Montanians about top-down and over-the-top policies and frustrations with bureaucratic regulatory challenges such as those posed by the Cottonwood decision, has witnessed and even helped facilitate huge managed wildlife conservation successes. by the state, such as the sage grouse. , gray wolves and grizzly bears are recovering in Montana, ”he wrote. “I think Ms. Williams will bring a pragmatic and balanced approach to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Daines’ support contrasted with her position with Bureau of Land Management director Tracy Stone-Manning.
Daines was among the strongest opponents of Stone-Manning, who also ran a Montana state agency under Bullock before Biden appointed her to head an agency inside the United States. The Senate confirmed Stone-Manning along party lines in September, following a long and acrimonious debate.
Daines, who is not a panel member and was not present 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 Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) During the hearing, Williams said the federal government would lead the management of grizzly bears in Montana.
She said state authorities should direct the management of fish and wildlife, unless federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Birds Treaty Act do not apply. ‘apply. Grizzly bears are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Lummis appeared satisfied with Williams’ response to federalism, but was less satisfied with his response to the potential grizzly bear removal from the Yellowstone ecosystem, which includes parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. , from the Endangered Species Act list.
Williams said she will support the long-term recovery of the grizzly bear population and adhere to federal law and the science behind it to achieve that goal.
Lummis said the grizzly bears have recovered sufficiently, reaching previous benchmarks for the population.
“It’s a long term recovery, and they are recovered,” Lummis said. “Every goal has been met… I think what I’m hearing you say is that you are not ready to consider delisting. “
Williams said she didn’t want to dismiss the idea for good, but didn’t agree that all of the goals of the federal law had been met. While the population numbers were robust, grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area did not meet the five criteria required for delisting.
Capito said she was concerned that administrative action to strengthen the Migratory Birds Treaty Act, which penalizes polluters for accidental damage to migratory birds, would add “another heavy layer” to development, including for the construction of infrastructure.
Democrats on the Senate panel, including Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, asked questions about specific land and water management issues in their states.
Williams, who grew up on a Baltimore County farm, told Cardin and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.) that she would work to protect coastal areas and watersheds, including the Bay watershed. from Chesapeake.
US Senator Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) said the invasive salt cedar plant consumes scarce water in his state and asked about federal resources to fight invasive species.
Williams responded that the invasive species work was being handled by several domestic agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service. She added that she had experience dealing with invasive species dealing with invasive mussels in Montana.
Williams has exercised the authority of the Director of the FWS as Senior Deputy Director of the office since the day of the inauguration. This position does not require Senate approval. Biden appointed her as director confirmed by the Senate last month.
Williams led the Montana Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Parks from 2017 to 2020 under Democratic Governor Steve Bullock, according to a biography posted on the FWS website.
Before becoming director of the state agency, she worked there for more than 20 years as legal counsel, according to Daines’ letter.
Williams was the Assistant Attorney for Parks and Wildlife at the United States Department of the Interior from 2011 to 2013.