Five Questions Every Hunter Should Ask Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Nominee Martha Williams

As the United States Senate continues to consider nominations to lead departments and agencies in the Biden Administration, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will meet on Wednesday, November 17th at 10:00 AM to consider the nomination of Martha Williams to be the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department the Interior (DOI).

As the potential political appointee tasked with overseeing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Williams will have a direct role in determining policy for sportsmen and women in the United States and the international hunting process. 

Here are five questions every hunter should be asking Martha Williams.

Question 1: “Will you work with Secretary Haaland to commit to a “no-net-loss” – or better – policy for hunting and fishing access on public lands?

Background: During the Senate confirmation hearing of Secretary Deb Haaland, she would not commit to a “no-net-loss” policy, despite direct questions from Senator Steve Daines (MT-R) and urging from Safari Club International.  Since that time, the DOI is considering the closure of over 60 million acres of federal public lands in Alaska to non-federally qualified subsistence hunters, but the proposal offers no evidence or justification of a conservation need for this closure, and Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game opposes the proposal. If confirmed, will Williams work to maintain or increase access for sportsmen and women across the country as a critical component of species and habitat conservation?

Question 2: “Will you work with Secretary Haaland and the Department of the Interior to commit to protecting individuals’ personal information from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), by directing DOI FOIA offices to consistently withhold personal information, as permitted by federal law, to protect the privacy rights of American citizens?”

Background: There have been numerous attempts by anti-hunting organizations to obtain personal information of sportsmen and women whose names are in USFWS databases. The USFWS has an inconsistent record regarding the information disclosed in response to FOIA requests, especially related to the identities of international hunters and information relating to commercial importers. In some instances, information disclosed to FOIA requestors has been abused on social media and elsewhere to attack law-abiding hunters with commercial ruin and even threats to their physical safety. Federal courts have upheld the USFWS’ ability to withhold personal information from disclosure and faulted the USFWS for its inconsistent approach in determining what information it can legally withhold. Will Williams work to correct these inconsistencies and protect the privacy rights of law-abiding American citizens?

Question 3: “Will you work with Secretary Haaland and commit to keeping recent changes made to the Endangered Species Act intact to more closely implement Congress’ intent, while also celebrating conservation success stories like the recent delisting of the gray wolf?”

Background: The previous administration received praise from scientists and wildlife officials for amending Endangered Species Act regulations to clarify the criteria for delisting recovered species, like the Gray Wolf, subsequently freeing up resources that can be used to assist the recovery of endangered or threatened species. Will Williams commit to the recent ESA changes and celebrate conservation success stories like the gray wolf?

Question 4: “President Biden’s ‘America the Beautiful’ Initiative commits to the goal of 30×30, or conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030. What is your baseline definition of “conserving” in this case? Do you recognize existing management levels/actions that currently afford protections? The executive order also launches a process for stakeholder engagement. Will you commit to providing sportsmen with an equitable voice in the stakeholder-engaged process?”

Background: As America’s original conservationists, the hunting and fishing community has proactively supported strategic efforts to conserve our nation’s terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems for more than a century.  Sportsmen and women deserve a seat at the table when policy proposals are debated about conserving lands and waters in the United States considering they are solely responsible for the funding that helps acquire and manage National Wildlife Refuges. Will Williams ensure a transparent and inclusive process for the 30×30 initiative?

Question 5: “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for administering the import of sport-hunted trophies. But the USFWS has been criticized for not appropriately taking into account the conservation programs of range nations, particularly in southern Africa.  To meet the directives of the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government, two indigenous community organizations have petitioned the USFWS to revise its regulations to recognize the conservation contributions of underserved indigenous and rural communities.  How will you engage with these communities, and will you apply the principles of the Executive Order to ameliorate the negative impact of USFWS regulations on their conservation efforts?”

Background: Range countries and community representatives have repeatedly complained about delays in the USFWS approval of import permits, and how those delays are detrimentally impacting their national conservation strategies and rural community development programs. The USFWS is slow to process and approve permit applications—despite the fact the southern Africa countries with well-established sport-hunting programs currently protect the world’s largest populations of elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, and many other species. These countries are clearly able to manage the species within their borders, but they depend on U.S. hunter-conservationists for financial support. One key aspect of their success is engaging and incentivizing their indigenous and rural communities to participate in species conservation, and communal lands provide extensive habitat. These countries and their underserved communities have made their concerns known to the DOI; most recently, CAMPFIRE Association Zimbabwe and the Ngamiland Council of Non-Governmental Organizations formally petitioned the USFWS and Secretary Haaland to conform to President Biden’s Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities. The petition requests that the USFWS revise its regulations governing the listing and import of foreign species to “effectively take into account the conservation efforts of range countries and to protect the rights of underserved indigenous or rural communities around the world.”  Will Williams take the concerns of these communities seriously and act on this petition, which would require the USFWS to seriously consider the role that indigenous and rural communities play in conservation?