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Steve Williams Confirmed As USFWS Director

by Robert Kane

          The US Senate confirmed Steve Williams' nomination as US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) Director moments before President Bush delivered his State of the Union speech in the Capitol on January 29, 2002. Williams, who was the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks secretary, had been strongly supported by sportsmen before and after his June 2000 White House nomination.

          The USFWS top job has been vacate for more than a year, reflecting the very slow pace of filling sub-cabinet appointments. Williams' October confirmation hearing statement is included below.

Statement of Steven A. Williams
Nominated to the position of Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Department of the Interior
Before the Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate

          October 17, 2001 - Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, it is a great honor for me to be nominated by President Bush as the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. I appreciate the confidence expressed by Secretary Gale Norton in my qualifications and ability to lead the agency. It is also an honor to be present here today and to have this committee consider my qualifications to lead our nation’s fish and wildlife conservation agency. Should I be confirmed by the Senate, I assure you that I will eagerly assume the awesome responsibility of preserving and promoting our nation’s fish and wildlife conservation heritage.

          I sit before you today as the nominee and as the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. I have served as director of this agency for the last six and a half years. My colleagues in the other 49 states have praised President Bush’s decision to nominate a state director to this important federal position. As a state fish and wildlife agency director, I believe that I bring certain qualifications, experience, and perspective to this position that will benefit constituents in each of your states.

          During the 44 years of my life, I have had opportunities to travel and live throughout much of the United States. I was born in Bellows Falls, Vermont while my family farmed in Westminster for markets in Boston and small towns in southern Vermont. While growing up in rural areas of the northeast, I enjoyed fishing, hiking, and exploring fields and forests. I developed a deep appreciation for conservation as practiced by my friends and neighbors.

          I received a B.S. in Environmental Resource Management from The Pennsylvania State University, an M.S. in Biology from the University of North Dakota, and a Ph.D. in Forest Resources also from Penn State. While going to college, I worked seven summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming within Grand Teton National Park. During this time, college provided knowledge and honed my analytical skills but summers fed my passion for working with the nation’s people and their natural resources.

          I have spent the past 16 years working in state fish and wildlife agencies in three states. I started as a wildlife biologist and have been promoted to administrative positions of ever-increasing responsibility. I have managed state programs from a centralized location relying on widely distributed geographic offices and personnel.

          I believe that communicating and cooperating with individuals and organizations is the only effective means to accomplishing positive fish and wildlife management. This approach includes the consideration of all interested parties, partners, and technical expertise. I believe that common sense approaches to difficult resource issues are in the best interest of all involved.

          Under my leadership, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has initiated new partnerships with state agencies, agricultural organizations, conservation organizations, and private individuals. One of these partnerships has opened more than 830,000 acres of private land for public hunting. This program is a voluntary, incentive-based program that has increased recreational opportunity, improved local economies, and provided private landowners with income, all financed with revenue from Kansas hunters. In just six years, this program has grown from 10,000 acres to more than 830,000 acres. This and many other examples of private-public partnerships are being practiced by state and federal agencies across the country. I hope to expand on such opportunities if I am confirmed in this position.

          The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is facing challenging times ahead. Lawsuits concerning the listing of threatened and endangered species and critical habitat designation has consumed much of the time and financial resources of the agency. Fish hatcheries and refuges require considerable attention and investment to maintain existing infrastructure. Law enforcement officers are stretched thin as they attempt to deal with illegal trade and importation of wildlife. Ecological Services’ offices face mounting project reviews and additional demands on their time. The research component of the Service has been diminished and managers are forced to make decisions, sometimes without desired information. Relationships between the Service and states, sportsmen and women, the fishing and hunting industry, and private citizens are strained.
To face these challenges, the Service is staffed by dedicated and talented people with a deep commitment to fish and wildlife conservation. They endeavor each day to meet the demands and issues confronting them in the best interest of the resources and the nation. The nation is better off because of the work of Service employees.

          If confirmed as Director, I will work tirelessly to improve relationships, forge new partnerships, and solve issues confronting the agency. I have experienced success by working cooperatively with disparate interest groups, by challenging existing assumptions, by communicating a vision, and by encouraging novel approaches to solve problems.

          The mission of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has expanded dramatically over the past few decades. However, two things remain constant, sportsmen and women of the country have been the primary financiers of fish and wildlife conservation. I would like to take steps to shore up what was once a powerful relationship between the Service and our nation’s hunters and anglers. Second, private landowners provide habitat for the majority of fish and wildlife resources. I respect these landowner’s rights and will work cooperatively with them in their interest and in the interest of wildlife. I will strive to strike a balance between the important issues of endangered species protection and the issues associated with preserving and promoting fishing and hunting in this country.

          As America becomes more urbanized and our citizens become generations removed from the land, it is important to maintain a collective connection to the natural world. Hunters, anglers, trappers, and wildlife observers maintain that connection. The Service should partner with state agencies, private organizations, and individuals to promote wildlife-associated activities for our citizens.

          The list of issues confronting the new Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service is considerable; however, with the support of this Administration, Congress, states, organizations, and individuals, the Service will rise to the challenge and improve our nation’s fish and wildlife resources. Americans care deeply about fish and wildlife resources. If confirmed as Director, I will approach the responsibilities of that position with a passion to deliver programs, opportunities, and a vision for the Service that includes protection and conservation of our resources for the American public’s use and enjoyment.

          I pledge to work cooperatively, collaboratively, and through communication with all members of the U. S. Congress to assure that we meet the needs and desires of the American public and its fish and wildlife resources. We have an impressive conservation heritage in this country. We must continue the progress made by previous generations to assure that future generations share in the wonderful blessings that we all enjoy.

          Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the committee for considering my qualifications for this position.

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