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Scientists challenge USFWS director qualifications

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Over 100 scientists signed a letter (attached below) to the President and the Secretary of the Interior, indicating that they are “gravely concerned that the current Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is not a ‘scientist’ in direct violation of federal law.”

According to the letter, in 1974 Congress established scientific qualifications for the Director of the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service, with statutory language requiring that, “[n]o individual may be appointed as the Director unless he is, by reason of scientific education and experience, knowledgeable in the principles of fisheries and wildlife management.”

The current USFWS Director, Martha Williams, was nominated as Director in October 2021. She had been serving as Principal Deputy Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service since January 20, 2021. The nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in February 2022.

Prior to her appointment, Williams served as the Director of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks from 2017 to 2020. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor of Law at the Blewett School of Law at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana where she co-directed the university’s Land Use and Natural Resources Clinic. Williams has a BA in philosophy from the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Montana.

“Without specific academic training in the natural sciences, the Service Director lacks a sufficient scientific understanding of the natural world and its fundamental principles to consider all the biological and ecological factors that are important to ensure the scientific integrity of critical decisions affecting the fate of imperiled species and ecosystems,” say the letter.

The previous director, Aurelia Skipwith, who was confirmed for the post in 2019, also met with some resistance from some environmental groups, because her degree with in molecular biology and not a field more directly related to wildlife.

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