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Martha Williams, who until recently served as the director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks under former Gov. Steve Bullock, will be taking a high-profile position with the U.S. Interior Department. The agency announced Wednesday that she will be serving as a principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency tasked with conserving and protecting fish, wildlife and plants.

Williams was the director of FWP in Montana from 2017 to 2020. She was the first woman to serve in that role, where she managed nearly 700 full-time-equivalent employees and oversaw the administration of more than 50 state parks. 

FWP dealt with a number of difficult and often contentious issues during her tenure — grizzly bear management, the introduction of aquatic invasive species, and the spread of chronic wasting disease, to name a few. She also served as legal counsel to FWP from 1998 to 2011, when wolf reintroduction was a hot-button issue for the agency.

More recently, bison management has been on her radar. In a guest editorial appearing in the Billings Gazette a year ago, she wrote that “FWP recognizes that bison restoration has a place in Montana, whether on tribal land, public land, or private lands of willing landowners.” She advocated for a bison restoration proposal that would allow for collaboration and transparency and take “into account the concerns of landowners and communities small and large.”

Prior to assuming the top job at FWP, Williams was an assistant professor of law and co-director of the Land Use and Natural Resources Clinic at the University of Montana. While there, she focused on natural resources law, public land and resources law and wildlife law.

Martha Williams Credit: Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks

When she was named director of FWP, she highlighted her background working in several different agency divisions: law enforcement, parks management, wildlife conservation and public education. She also told the Missoulian that while she is not a biologist, she’s “spent [her] career translating science to decision makers and courts,” and said she takes particular pleasure in teaching students about the intersections of science, law and policy.

The Montana Wildlife Federation, a Helena-based conservation organization, cheered the announcement.

“President Joseph R. Biden has made an excellent choice in appointing Martha Williams as Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Tom Puchlerz, MWF board president, said in a statement emailed to Montana Free Press. “Martha has a wealth of knowledge and experience in managing public wildlife, public lands and waters, and striking that balance between people and wildlife in the many complex issues around these incredible resources.”

This is not the first time Williams has served in the DOI. Prior to teaching at the University of Montana’s Alexander Blewitt III School of Law, she was the Interior Department’s deputy solicitor for parks and wildlife.

Williams is both a hunter and an angler, and according to the Interior Department press release, she grew up on a farm.

In DOI’s announcement highlighting Williams’ hire — along with that of 20 other Interior Department employees — Jennifer Van der Heide, President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, said, “We look forward to working with the dedicated civil servants at the Department to fulfill Interior’s missions, advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes and uphold the trust and treaty responsibilities to them, address the climate and nature crises, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation. We are ready to get to work on behalf of the American people.”

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Billings native Amanda Eggert covers environmental issues for MTFP. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism who has written for Outside magazine and Outlaw Partners. At Outlaw Partners she led coverage for the biweekly newspaper Explore Big Sky. Contact Amanda at aeggert@montanafreepress.org.